Richardson: Fix the Valley's alcohol problem now, or maybe scar us forever - East Valley Tribune: Columnists

Richardson: Fix the Valley's alcohol problem now, or maybe scar us forever

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Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at

Posted: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 8:35 am

The burns on the 17-year-old girl’s legs will scar her forever.

The prospective student was in Tempe to visit Arizona State University. She attended an off campus party with an 18-year-old female ASU student.

According to news reports, a partygoer threw a bottle of vodka into a bonfire where “hundreds of people were standing shoulder to shoulder.” Both girls were seriously burned. ABC15 reported Tempe police said the injured girls were told to leave the party before the fire department arrived because there was “obviously underage drinking going on.”

I have to wonder why “hundreds” drinking and partying in a neighborhood wasn’t detected by police and stopped?

There’s been a steady stream of reports involving off-campus activities resulting in violence and death ranging from the girls being burned, to what the Tempe police described as “gang style attacks” involving fraternities, fight club like scenes from student apartment complexes and the tragic death of Jack Culolias, a 19-year-old ASU student who was found dead in Tempe Town Lake after a night of drinking.

The common denominator in the incidents – and hundreds of others we hear about in Arizona – is the underage and excessive drinking of alcohol.

Autopsy reports show Culolias’ blood alcohol level was 0.28 percent, three-and-a-half times the legal limit for driving a car. Cadillac Ranch, the bar Culolias and others were at prior to his death, has now been found to have committed multiple liquor law violations the night Culolias died.

Crimes Arizona has decided situations like this only warrant 10 state liquor agents to enforce more than 11,000 establishments that serve and sell alcohol.

Local police can also enforce liquor laws but they usually aren’t a priority. Police know excessive consumption of liquor is the root of many serious crimes, ranging from murder, rape, domestic violence and assaults. A woman was raped two weeks ago in downtown Tempe by a drunken man, and recently a downtown Scottsdale nightspot bouncer was stabbed to death by two partiers.

Unfortunately, the problems are most often only addressed after the fact using age-old methods that allow crime and violence to breed in areas where the sale of alcohol is loosely regulated.

One only needs to look at the constant and steady stream of drunk drivers to see that the current methods of enforcing Arizona’s liquor laws isn’t working. Most drunk drivers come from bars. New-age intelligence and predictive policing methods appear to have escaped law enforcement when it comes to identifying trouble spots, repeat offenders and chronic drunk drivers.

No one can accurately estimate the number of dollars criminal alcohol abuse costs us. Public safety dollars take up much of the cost.

While proponents of alcohol industry tout the tax revenue the booze industry generates, there’s no way the tax benefits even come close to the costs.

According to a Jan. 6, 2012 Arizona Republic story, Policing costs exceed Scottsdale bar district’s revenue, the difference was about $800,000 for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

“The annual cost for policing downtown Scottsdale’s entertainment district far exceeds the amount of revenue generated from the high concentration of bars in the area, according to city figures.”

Law enforcement and policy makers continue to focus on marijuana dealers and undocumented aliens while avoiding or ignoring the seriousness of the alcohol problem and its enormous impact on Arizona’s quality of life.

The time has come to focus on Arizona’s homegrown substance problem and do all it can to make the streets safe.

I have to wonder if the burning of those two girls and the death of Culolias could’ve been prevented if aggressive liquor law enforcement was given a high priority by police.

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