Monday, April 21, 2014

Legislature addresses liquor privatization and increased youth access

Since hard liquor became available in grocery and other large retail stores, Prevention WINS coalition members have reported that it is easily stolen by minors.  During the coalition’s December 2012 general meeting, the North Precinct Liaison for the Seattle City Attorney’s Office reported:

~ All grocery stores, including all North Seattle groceries, are being hit by theft of liquor. 

~ Store security officers usually have a hands-off policy and are told to verbally discourage theft.
~ Many stores display alcohol near doors, making it easy for people to steal. 

~ When corporate offices are contacted, they state that, as a corporation, liquor theft is not affecting their profits and they do not plan to address the problem. 

~ Some South Seattle stores have begun to lock up their liquor. 

~ It is estimated that stores are losing up to $1,000 per day and the Roosevelt Safeway reports that they are losing about $30,000 per month due to liquor theft.  Stores are likely under-reporting their losses and that reported losses should be multiplied by 3 to get a more accurate picture. 

~ The King County Prosecutor’s Office does not prosecute any theft less than $1,000.  The Seattle City Attorney’s Office is working to track individual thieves so that when they steal an aggregate of more than $750 the City Attorney can refer them to the Prosecutor’s Office. 

Liquor theft is not unique to Seattle. In response, the state legislature passed a bill aimed at reducing theft.  KPLU broadcast a story about it today:

Grocery store owners who are losing liquor to shoplifters could pay a hefty price. Under a new law that takes effect June 13, the state can take away the store's license to sell liquor.

The crack down is aimed at keeping liquor out of the hands of underage drinkers.

Thefts Began With Privatization

As soon as liquor was privatized in Washington in 2012, Rep. Christopher Hurst, D-Enumclaw, began hearing stories from cops about juveniles being caught with hard liquor. Hurst says that wasn't the case with state-run liquor stores, which had a theft rate of about zero.

Almost always, he says, the bottle of whiskey or tequila had been “lifted” from a retail shelf.
While many store owners did begin locking the liquor away and putting up special security systems, Hurst was frustrated by how lax some stores remained.

“You know, there were stores that had, eight steps from the door at one o'clock in the morning, Jose Cuervo or Jack Daniels or Jaegermeister — stuff that kids, of course, love and like to steal,” Hurst said.

New Law Goes After Retailers

Under the new law, a store that doesn't secure its liquor could lose its license from the state Liquor Control Board.

The state will be able to take the license away if the store has, within six months, two shoplifting incidents that result in the alcohol ending up in a juvenile's hands.

Hurst, who sponsored the legislation, says he thinks it’s already making a difference. He says he recently returned to a store that had displayed its liquor next to the front door.

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