Stores must share booze-boosting records

The News TribuneDecember 10, 2013 

Theft of hard liquor has risen significantly since privatization went into effect and alcohol is sold at grocery stores instead of state liquor stores.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Washington’s sheriffs and police chiefs know hard liquor theft has become a big problem in the state since voters approved private sales in 2011. But they can’t pin down exactly how much is getting stolen and which stores are most attractive to thieves.

That’s because the grocery stores where much of the liquor is sold now won’t release information about theft. They claim it’s proprietary information that, if made public, would give valuable information to competitors.

That might make sense if the subject were candy bars or laundry detergent. But when the item being stolen has an impact on public health and safety, the argument is considerably weakened. Minors are getting easier access to hard liquor, and organized crime benefits from shoplifting rings that specialize in stealing booze.

According to the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, having access to theft data could help them better target limited law enforcement resources. But a Pierce County legislator says there’s another reason that information should be available not only to police but to the public: The daylight would encourage stores to better secure hard liquor.

State Rep. Chris Hurst, D- Enumclaw, is a retired police officer who has seen the damage alcohol can do – on the road and in family relationships. He told KING 5 that he’s disturbed by how easily accessible liquor is at some stores in his district – making it an attractive target for shoplifters. He’d like to see stores with high rates of theft do more to secure liquor – or face revocation of their license to sell it. But it’s impossible to hold stores accountable if they aren’t required to report their loss rates from theft.

Hurst is working on legislation that would address the reporting problem. In the meantime, retailers need to realize that if they have the right to sell liquor, they also have a responsibility to do everything they can to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands – especially young people’s.

Rick Whidden, Safeway’s head of loss prevention in Washington and Oregon, told KING 5 that if stores make it tougher to steal one product, the crime rings just target something else – like baby formula. We’ll take that statement seriously the next time someone causes a highway fatality after drinking too much Similac.

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