By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
November 21, 2013
RALEIGH — If the state wants to tackle underage drinking and other alcohol related crime, lawmakers must be willing to provide more manpower to ALE. That was the gist of a message from Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission Chairman Jim Gardner and Alcohol Law Enforcement Director Gregory Baker, who addressed the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety earlier in November, just months after the General Assembly slashed ALE’s budget by $1.7.
The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said the Legislature should heed Gardner’s words of wisdom.
“North Carolina cannot afford to be without the expertise of a sufficiently funded ALE. Local law enforcement is not equipped, nor can they bear the additional burden of performing the very specialized services ALE renders,” Dr. Creech wrote in a recent Christian Post editorial.
While ALE received $500,000 from the ABC Commission and another $200,000 from the Lottery Commission to help soften the blow, the remaining million-dollar shortfall left the agency with individual field supervisors responsible for multiple district offices, which Baker called “problematic.” He said without the $700,000 supplement, the cuts would have had “a catastrophic effect” on the agency’s ability to execute its mission.
Formed in 1977 to enforce the state’s ABC laws, ALE’s role has grown to include enforcement of controlled substance, tobacco, lottery and gambling laws, as well as regulations dealing with boxing and bingo. Nearly one in 10 of the agency’s arrests last year dealt with traffic, as local law enforcement agencies often request help with checkpoints and other special patrol efforts since its 102 sworn officers have statewide jurisdiction.
Still, 61 percent of the agency’s arrests in 2012 involved alcohol, DWI or open container laws, as the lion’s share of the agency’s time is spent policing the state’s $5-billion-a-year booze business, including monitoring more than 18,000 alcohol outlets and 60,000 permits.
While some county level ABC boards have their own officers to inspect permit holders and probe violations and others have arrangements with local law enforcement agencies to help deal with alcohol, these set-ups cannot replace ALE’s expertise when it comes to the state’s complicated liquor laws, Gardner told the committee.
In addition to violence at some of the state’s private clubs and bars, the ABC chairman is also concerned about underage drinking.
Organizer of the North Carolina Governor’s Initiative to Prevent Underage Drinking/Addiction, Gardner has placed underage and excessive drinking on college campuses at the top of his agenda. But he said reducing the crime will take more agents, and he’d like to see the state earmark some $12 million in alcohol permit revenues for ALE to help in the effort.
“What better way to do it than take the source of some of the problem and turn it into the solution?” he asked the committee.
Dr. Creech agrees it would be money well spent, especially since underage drinking costs the state some $1.5 billion per year.
“The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tell us that underage drinking is widespread in our beloved state,” he said. “In fact, 63.8 percent of high school students in North Carolina have had at least one drink on one or more days in their life; 19 percent had their first drink before age 13; more than a third have had a drink on one or more occasion in the past 30 days; and almost 1 in 5 have engaged in binge drinking within the past month.”
While Dr. Creech said he agreed with most of the cuts the General Assembly made when developing the state’s budget this year, he opposed the reductions to law enforcement.
“The primary purpose, if not the exclusive role of the state, is to judge and suppress evil — to defend the unalienable rights of the people — something law enforcement is meant to do,” he said. “Nothing in our culture affects more negatively the life, liberty and property of the people than alcohol abuse. Therefore, ALE needs adequate funding.”