Surge in liquor thefts in state must be quelled

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The increase in liquor thefts is hardly an unintended consequence of allowing booze to be sold in supermarkets and other retail outlets. Most expected that easier access to booze would result in more people trying to walk out of stores with a bottle or two.

But the increase in thefts is far higher than many anticipated across the state. Local police estimate a 175 percent increase in shoplifting liquor. News reports out of Seattle describe the theft rate as “practically an epidemic.”

This has become more than a crime issue, it’s a public safety issue. Minors have easier access to hard liquor such as vodka, whiskey and tequila.

“We are getting a lot of minors that are stealing it, people that are stealing it and reselling it and I’m sure a lot of it is for their own consumption as well,” Walla Walla Police Department spokesman Tim Bennett said earlier this month. “ ... There’s no way of knowing how much loss is going unreported. We suspect there is a lot.”

Many retailers are still trying to figure out where to display the liquor to increase sales and decrease thefts. It’s essentially a business decision. The same goes for the decision to install expensive security systems. They might reduce thefts but the cost might not justify the benefit.

U-B reporter Vicki Hillouse reported earlier this month that because of the increase in thefts, local law enforcement officials are finding themselves working with retailers on how to display the product and deter theft.

Walla Walla isn’t an island regarding the concern of law enforcement. The increase in liquor thefts has law enforcement seeking a way to target the problem.

KLEWTV out of the Lewiston/Clarkston area reported this week that the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs wants the State Liquor Control Board to require retailers to keep detailed records of theft.

“So once we have that data and we know what the problem is we can start talking about solutions to the theft problem,” said Clarkston Police Chief Joel Hastings.

A record requirement is a solid idea as long as it is structured so it won’t create a burden for retailers.

The data could also be useful in tweaking the law on liquor sales.

Some have suggested that liquor should be sold in more secured areas with only one entrance in and out, much like state-run liquor stores or video-rental areas that were once prevalent in grocery stores.

The approach taken by law enforcement is welcome. Liquor thefts, particularly by minors, must be curbed.



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