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State May Begin Requiring Stores to Report Liquor Thefts

The Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs has asked the Washington State Liquor Control Board to enact a new rule that would force businesses to share data on the shoplifting of liquor.

As our state begins implementing a structure for legal marijuana use, some local law enforcment officials are expressing concern about changes brought by I-1183, the measure that privatized liquor sales in June 2012.

The Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs, headed by Mercer Island Police Chief Ed Holmes, has asked the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) to require that private businesses begin reporting liquor thefts at their stores. Holmes outlined the reasons for the request in a letter sent to the board in late 2012 (see attached PDF).

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"As a result (of the passage of I-1183), we believe significant amounts of spirits are being diverted from legitimate sales and unlawfully making their way into the community," Holmes wrote. "This is resulting in increased access to alcohol by youth under 21 years of age, secondary unlawful sales of spirits, loss of legitimate sales tax collection, and an increasing black market focused on theft and resale of spirits."

WSLCB spokesman Brian Smith confirmed the board is considering whether to implement a new rule. Some public testimony has already been collected, he said, including a statement from the Northwest Grocery Association voicing opposition to the idea of required theft reporting. (Patch's attempts to reach the organization for a comment have not been successful.)

The board has just begun gathering information and input on the proposed changes but is taking the request seriously, Smith said.

“Public safety is No. 1," he said. "Anytime you get alcohol in the hands of teenagers and youth, it’s a big concern.”

The liquor board is scheduled to hear additional public testimony on the possiblity of the new reporting rule in late February, Smith said. People can also submit written comments to rules@liq.wa.gov.

Redmond Police began independently tracking liquor thefts on June 1, the day the new law went into effect. Jim Bove, department spokesman and community outreach facilitator, said 20 such incidents were reported to police in the first five months of private liquor sales.

The total number of shoplifting incidents within the city showed a slight increase between June 1 and Nov. 1, 2012, compared with the same five-month period in 2011—from 81 to 93. But as Bove points out, "it's difficult to compare apples to apples," given the fact that hard alcohol is now available at many more locations.

There was just one shoplifting incident at the old state-run liquor store in downtown Redmond between June 1 and Nov. 1, 2011, he said.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers have introduced a bill that would put additional restrictions on alcohol sales at self check-out machines. House Bill 1009 calls for an end to sales at self check-out lanes or "system that enables a customer to purchase items with little or no assistance" from a checker.

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