By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
August 20, 2013
RALEIGH – A nearly 20 percent budget cut for the state’s Alcohol Law Enforcement agency may mean a loss of some 20 positions at the organization that not only enforces alcohol laws, but is also responsible for regulating tobacco, bingo, boxing, the lottery and more.
Formed in 1977, the ALE will see its budget of about $10 million drop by more than $1.75 million this coming year, a move that concerns Jim Gardner, chairman of the Alcohol Beverage Control Commission. “They just simply don’t have the manpower to handle what’s been put on them,” he told WRAL. ABC relies heavily on ALE to investigate and monitor alcohol sales permit applicants.
The cuts also concern the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “We understand the need for reducing state spending, and we know cuts had to be made, but we fear that stretching the agents so thin will make regular inspections of alcohol sales outlets impossible and lead to a growing number of violations going totally undetected,” he said. “I believe the primary responsibility of government is to suppress and judge evil. Of all the things we don’t need to cut is law enforcement. Law enforcement is our first line of defense protecting the peoples’ God-given rights to their life, liberty and property. Few things affect more negatively these areas of life than alcohol use and abuse,” he added.
ALE investigations often target problem permitted establishments that serve as havens for violence, violations of the ABC laws, gaming violations, money laundering and other criminal activity. Because agents have statewide jurisdiction, they can probe widespread drug trafficking rings and assist local sheriff’s offices and police departments with everything from checkpoints to search and rescue operations.
“This agency’s versatility is a blessing to the state overall but can be a curse when it comes to alcohol law enforcement, a key role which we’re afraid will lose center stage when times are tight,” said Dr. Creech. “This may very well be one of those situations in which we don’t know what we’ve got until it’s gone.”
He said the enforcement of ABC laws, many of which deal with underage drinking, is too important to be left to chance or dumped on already overburdened local law enforcement agencies as ALE’s staff, now including some 83 agents, shrinks.
“ALE officers have additional training and knowledge of ABC law, plus they lead educational efforts among bar and restaurant operators to head off illegal sales before they happen,” Dr. Creech added. “It’s impossible to tell how many violations their thousands of routine checks at alcohol selling establishments prevent.
According to the ALE web site, alcohol violations accounted for 55 percent of the agency’s 7,000-plus arrests in 2012, followed by controlled substance arrests at 19 percent and traffic at 9 percent. Some 6 percent of arrests involved DWI or open container violations. The rest included fictitious ID, bingo, gambling and lottery charges, tobacco violations and arrests for assaults and weapons.
ALE director Greg Baker said the mandated budget reductions will severely limit ALE in meeting its goals. “The Department is currently assessing the damage caused by the reductions and will endeavor to identify solutions to ensure that ALE is able to continue to execute its mission to the best of its ability,” he told WRAL.
This is not the first time ALE has faced the budget axe. Lawmakers came close to defunding the agency altogether in 2011, but wound up cutting its budget by less than 10 percent after hearing from ALE allies like the Christian Action League.
“Our hope is that as cuts take effect, ALE will hold to its core role of alcohol law enforcement and not be spread too thin with other tasks,” Dr. Creech said. “Our prayers are with these agents.”