It’s a consequence a lot of people saw coming. Too bad voters ignored the warning.
Many opponents of Initiative 1183 — which in 2012 privatized the sale of hard liquor in Washington — predicted that making alcohol more accessible to adults would also make it more accessible to minors.
Sure enough, that’s happening. In communities across the state, police report that alcohol theft has risen dramatically under privatization, and many of the thieves are teenagers stealing either for themselves or to sell to other youths. They suspect the theft problem is much worse than arrest numbers indicate, but they don’t know the full extent because stores aren’t required to report their losses.
That has to change. The state Liquor Control Board should require stores to report losses and to better secure alcohol, perhaps in a self-contained area with limited access so it can be monitored better. Many stores depend on plastic security caps, which canny shoplifters apparently have little trouble disarming.
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Kids have always stolen booze, but it usually was beer lifted from the local convenience store or supermarket. It was harder for them to get the hard stuff because they weren’t even allowed in the state liquor stores that once had the monopoly on sales. They’d have to steal it from home, persuade an adult to buy it for them or hope the liquor store clerk would be fooled by a fake ID.
Now all they have to do is visit the local supermarket, tuck a bottle under a jacket and walk out the door. Kids are no longer bothering to steal wine and beer when the hard stuff is so readily available. It’s much easier for them to steal liquor than cigarettes, which generally are kept behind the counter.
One youthful shoplifter told The Olympian, “You’re not an automatic suspect when you walk in a grocery store.” Another teen, on probation for stealing alcohol from a grocery, said that “it’s easy” to shoplift liquor.
Law enforcement’s main concern, of course, is that youngsters can get a lot drunker a lot quicker on vodka and tequila than on Budweiser. If these kids are also driving, it’s a recipe for tragedy.
Greater access to hard liquor is a public safety issue, to be sure. But it’s also a public health concern. Young people swigging high-octane booze are on a faster track to alcoholism than on less potent beer and wine.
The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs should keep pressuring the liquor board to require that store keep records of theft. Having that data is the first step toward finding solutions.