Longview's three fatal wrecks so far this year involved alcohol, according to Sgt. Buddy Molpus with the Longview Police Department.
With statistics like that, city officials say it is important to crack down on alcohol violations in East Texas and raise awareness about the effects of alcohol.
April is Alcohol Awareness Month. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence designated April as alcohol awareness month in 1987. The organization encourages local communities to focus on and provide information about alcohol-related issues throughout the month.
"We have to change norms. People have so many more options. We have to stand up and be leaders," Lorri Essary, with the city of Longview's Partners in Prevention, said during an alcohol awareness forum on underage drinking in March. Partners in Prevention is a communty partnership of more than 300 organizations and people who work together to prevent substance abuse among youth.
Molpus said Longview has increased its enforcement to crack down on alcohol violations.
Longview Police Sgt. Shaun Pendleton said while the department has not hired additional officers, it has added more DWI officers to its shifts.
"We have our officers being more aggressive in their DWI enforcement," he said. "We are looking harder than what we had in the past. Our officers have just been more aggressive in their enforcement."
Molpus said some of the extra enforcement comes from a STEP grant that pays for overtime for officers to target certain offenses, such as DWIs.
"All law enforcement agencies in Gregg County have recognized that we have an issue here with people driving under the influence of alcohol," he said.
The extra enforcement has resulted in an increase in the number of tickets and arrests made in the city.
Molpus added that the increase in numbers doesn't necessarily mean there is more of an alcohol problem.
"You don't really know what's out there. The problem was out there the whole time, we just weren't making as much contact," he said.
According to Kim Higgins, a Mothers Against Drunk Driving program specialist, more than 17,000 people die in alcohol-related crashes each year nationally. She said 15- to 20-year-olds account for the biggest group in that statistic.
"Alcohol is the No. 1 killer among teens," Higgins said. "There are so many choices out there for teens. We want to educate them and the community. You have to make a better choice for yourself."
Alcohol sellers say they try to help prevent underage drinking.
Food Fast Corp. works closely with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and local law enforcement agencies on prevention programs, said Lewis Oswalt, loss prevention and safety supervisor for the Tyler-based company.
"I think underage children drinking is always a problem. I think we as the retailers have a responsibility to prevent that," he said. "It is actually a dual responsibility. It is the responsibility of the young person; it is the responsibility of the parents; and it is the responsibility of the retailer. It is a team effort to prevent this from happening where we can. We recognize our responsibility to the community to do that."
Alcohol sales contribute to area cities' coffers
Alcohol plays an important role in overall sales and tax revenue, some local business and government leaders owners say.
Alcohol sales contribute between $140,000 to $150,000 to Longview's annual budget, says Jill Laffitte, budget manager, and added "it really just depends on consumption."
Laffitte said 14 percent of vendors' mixed beverage sales is sent to the state. Vendors include stores, restaurants and any business that sells mixed beverages, she said.
According to one local business owner, sales tend to increase in April because "it's also beer season."
"Beer is what people prefer this time of year," said Charles Adams, owner of Adams Package Co. in Easton.
Adams says people are responsible for their actions when they consume alcohol, adding that his store encourages people to drink responsibly.
"We are very careful about how we distribute alcohol," he said. "I don't sell to minors. We thoroughly check IDs. When people come in here, we think they are even a little intoxicated, we don't sell to them."
Food Fast Corp. takes a strong position against selling to minors, said Lewis Oswalt, loss prevention and safety supervisor for the Tyler-based company.
"One of our priority goals is that we do not sell alcohol to minors," Oswalt said.
"We work with not only beer distributors but with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and other crime organizations."
Oswalt said all supervisors go through training and seminars, and clerks cannot sell alcohol until they are certified to do so. Those measures are taken to help ensure that alcohol is not sold to minors, he added.
"We follow even stronger policy than is recommended. If a person appears to be 30 years old or younger, we ID them," he said. "In addition, each store is equipped with special scanners to check the license and get a proper age on each person."
source: Longview News-Journal