Retail liquor thefts will come with penalties
SNOHOMISH COUNTY — New state legislation going into effect next month will cause retailers to watch their liquor shelves even more closely.
The law penalizes retailers who have two or more alcohol thefts in any six month period if the liquor lands in the hands of minors. That is, they are liable to be penalized if the thefts are reported.
Some law enforcement officials worry that the bill creates a potential wedge for retailers to shy from reporting alcohol thefts, but local police departments are hopeful this won’t fray the good lines of communication they’ve built with retailers. Law enforcement officials in Snohomish and Monroe both are optimistic, if not concerned, that retailers will work closer with local police to fight theft.
The Monroe Police Department and Monroe Chamber of Commerce just started an informal retail theft aversion group with major players at the table such as Fred Meyer and Albertson’s.
In Snohomish, the police are also looking to beef up response times and enforcement results from retail theft,
especially at Snohomish Station, where a high rate of shoplifting was blamed earlier this month or why the city’s crime rate is comparatively high.
“We know that liquor is being stolen,” Snohomish Police Chief John Flood said. “But I can tell you it’s not all being reported. A liquor license is very profitable, and all the merchants are doing the best they can to secure their liquor. It’s about revenue.”
Following this state’s privatization of liquor in 2012, statistical reports about retail liquor theft were found inconclusive, perhaps due to lack of hard data. It could be suggested that this new legislation may be in response to this, however, Washington State Patrol reported 777 “minor in possession” charges for 2012-2013 alcohol-related arrests, the first 12 months after privatization.
Before privatization, there was an average of approximately 1,000 minor in possession arrests each year, according to Washington State Patrol statistics.
The privatization law, heavily supported by Costco and other retailers, pulled hard liquor out of state-run stores over to grocery stores and other places; beer and wine always was sold unrestricted.
Flood can see the reasoning behind the bill and why it matters, but it all depends on whether or not the merchant reports it and thus generating an incident report that is documented for the state to see.
“The state has to take action,” he said. “Either you secure your liquor, or you could face penalties.”
Monroe Police Chief TIm Quenzer will be looking into the bill.
“We are only aware of the thefts where the retailer calls 911 as they have a suspect detained or they have a description and direction of travel,” Monroe Police Department spokeswoman Debbie Willis said.
Overall, Quenzer is pleased to see the retail theft group sprouting.
“Chief Quenzer is very pleased with the turnout at the meeting and we hope to expand to neighboring city retail merchants in the future,” Willis said.
Both Quenzer and Flood said they plan to research the bill further.
Neither department has exact figures on retail theft, because liquor thefts are often bunched into the category of shoplifting.
The law passed unanimously in the state Senate and almost unanimously in the state House. The bill number is 2155.
The bill goes into effect June 12.
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