Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bars Serving Drunk Driving Death Suspects Just Not Being Punished

You'd think that it wouldn't be so dang hard to go after bars that serve patrons who then drive drunk and kill someone but here in Texas that seems to be the case according to this story over at the Houston Chronicle. From the story:

TABC began tracking businesses that served alcohol to drunken drivers in a formal statewide initiative in 1994. Called "source investigations" because they target the source of the alcohol, the efforts focus solely on cases involving serious injury or death.

In the past three years, the agency conducted about 600 source investigations of restaurants and bars and revoked alcohol licenses in about 3 percent of the cases, according to TABC data. About 10 percent of establishments faced fines or a short-term suspension of a license.

In the absence of multiple violations, Beck said it's difficult for the agency to persuade administrative judges to revoke a permit, which can cost up to $6,500 for the first two years.

"As a general rule, we do what we can to cancel a permit when there's a fatality," she said. "We get into the hearings and they don't want to always put that much responsibility on the business owner who might not have been there at the time."

An established part of problem oriented policing theory is often times to interrupt the crime triangle by focussing on the conditions that allow that crime to occur. In this instance you could argue that a bar that has served multiple DWI suspect patrons is a large part of the problem. Eck and Spellman's routine activity theory calls a place like this a "den of iniquity" and describes it like this:

Repeat location problems involve different offenders and different targets interacting at the same place. These are DEN of iniquity problems. A drinking establishment that has many fights, but always among different people, is an example of a pure den problem. Den problems occur when new potential offenders and new potential targets encounter each other in a place where management is ineffective. The setting continues to facilitate the problem events.

Unfortunately, the folks making the Texas Alcohol Beverage statutes seem to have an overly soft spot for the industry that they are supposed to be regulating. By making it near impossible to hold the bar accountable, police are forced to use the old ineffective reactive law enforcement model rather than applying a more effective problem oriented policing methodology to this problem. The sad part is, that in this case, it is having deadly consequences.

What is your agency doing to target problem bars and nightclubs?

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