LANSING – Michigan must stand firm against trends that threaten to water down the state’s system of alcohol safeguards and regulations, and policymakers should consistently weigh public health and safety as a priority, a panel of law enforcement leaders said at a Center for Alcohol Policy (CAP) forum this week. The forum, “Public Safety and Law Enforcement in Alcohol Regulation,” was the second of the CAP’s 2012 Michigan Alcohol Policy Series held at the Radisson Hotel Lansing.
Jerry Oliver – former Detroit Chief of Police, former head of the Arizona Liquor Control Commission and current member of the CAP Advisory Council – said he has seen firsthand the harm alcohol abuses can cause to a community. He recounted how, as a young patrolman, police calls would ramp up between 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. when alcohol consumption patterns and associated problems increased. Today, with easier access and more outlets selling alcohol, he said alcohol-related incidents requiring police response are a 24/7 problem.
“As a former police chief, there are two issues law enforcement is concerned with – availability and accessibility,” Oliver said. “We’re concerned about the new business models emerging in the marketplace that really work against responsible alcohol consumption.”
Oliver cited more instances of alcohol being available at fast-food outlets, movie theaters, “pubs” on wheels, car washes and other places as increasing the risk of alcohol-related problems and illegal minor consumption. This also increases the burden on law enforcement, which are already struggling to do more with less funding and resources, he said.
Laura Fitzpatrick of the Muskegon Alcohol Liability Initiative (MALI) and MCHP/Mercy Health Partners said local communities like Muskegon must proactively tackle alcohol issues. Fitzpatrick said MALI works hand-in-glove with community partners in Muskegon, once known as the beer-tent capital of the world.
The MALI organization was originally formed in 2008 in partnership with Muskegon businesses and organizations. It now coordinates law enforcement and prevention efforts. Fitzpatrick said local elected officials are important in this effort because they can pass tough local liquor ordinances. Their efforts ramped up after recent incidents in Muskegon, including a fatal drunk driving accident that killed three Muskegon youths and a house party that involved alcohol, a parent and 100 teens.
“We worked very hard to have safe festivals, safe drinking by responsible adults,” Fitzpatrick said. “We wanted to have compliance checks, we wanted to warn people. We enhance law enforcement patrols.”
Ingham County District Court Judge Don Allen, who also presides over Ingham County’s sobriety court, said enforcement of regulations, laws and safeguards are essential because of the strong public safety component. Allen said he presided over a case involving a drunk driving crash in Holt in January that killed four youths.
“There is nothing that saddens me more than cases of young people dying in incidents that are totally preventable,” Allen said. He also warned adults not to provide alcohol to minors, even for consumption at home, because prosecutors will bring charges.
Don McGehee of the alcohol and gambling division in the Attorney General’s office said the office strongly supports Michigan’s current system of alcohol safeguards.
Scott Ellis of the National Hospitality Institute and Penny Norton of the Prevention Resource Group also presented their perspectives on the important relationship between public safety and the enforcement of alcohol policies.
Session One of the series, “The Economic Impact of the Alcohol Industry in Michigan,” was held on March 22 and provided an overview of the alcohol industry in Michigan along with the impact of regulation. The series will conclude with Session Three, “What’s Happening in the World of Alcohol Regulation,” on Thursday, May 3, 2012, at the Radisson Hotel Lansing.
The Center for Alcohol Policy is a 501c(3) organization whose mission is to educate policy makers, regulators and the public about alcohol, its uniqueness and regulation. By conducting sound and scientific-based research and implementing initiatives that will maintain the appropriate state-based regulation of alcohol, the Center promotes safe and responsible consumption, fights underage drinking and drunk driving and informs key entities about the effects of alcohol consumption. For more information, visit www.centerforalcoholpolicy.org or follow the Center on Twitter at www.twitter.com/AlcoholPolicy.