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Regulating liquor stores is a vital part of crime fighting

Link between liquor stores and violent crime is too well established to be left unchecked by the city's liquor board.

The challenge by a small group of liquor store owners to the new zoning law that terminates their operations in residential areas comes as no surprise (“Baltimore’s non-conforming liquor stores have had plenty of time,” June 13). We applaud our city leaders for taking this courageous step toward addressing the proliferation of Baltimore’s liquor stores, many of which cluster in disproportionately lower-income and non-white neighborhoods.

The harms associated with Baltimore’s high density of alcohol retailers are well documented. Researchers have found the associations between liquor stores and harms are stronger when those stores sell alcoholic beverages for off-site consumption in comparison to places where patrons consume on premise such as bars and restaurants.

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In a city marred by violent crime, we thank our elected and appointed officials for using their authority to acknowledge the role alcohol retailers play in the violence epidemic and for taking meaningful action to address it. We hope their colleagues in Annapolis will join them.

Last legislative session, advocates supported House Bill 965 which would have granted the Baltimore City Liquor Board power to suspend a license immediately if an act of violence resulting in death or serious bodily injury occurred in or immediately adjacent to the premises. Jurisdictions elsewhere in the country have used this “emergency suspension” tool with success. Unfortunately, the measure failed but will have an interim study this summer.

This type of regulation is necessary to protect the public from conditions around liquor establishments that contribute to recurrent violent acts. Such immediate investigations, aside from a necessary precaution to assure the public’s safety, would provide the liquor board with information needed to understand the severity of the incident and the liquor establishment’s potential culpability.

This authority would have been essential to understanding the activities occurring in and around Waverly Tavern when a murder occurred outside its premises, or what took place at Banditos, a Federal Hill tavern, when a 17-year-old stabbed three other patrons and himself, causing serious bodily injuries. In the Federal Hill incident, the liquor board didn’t hold its violation hearing until several months later. Coincidentally, security cameras were found to be non-operational and the circumstances of the incident remain largely unknown to this day.

Our fire and health departments are authorized to shut down a business if they believe there is a clear and immediate danger to the public. Given the liquor industry’s undeniable influence on the city’s health and safety, the liquor board should have the same authority to immediately and temporarily suspend operations when a serious violent act occurs in or around liquor establishments. For Baltimore’s violence reduction strategy to be efficient and effective, and for the sake of our fellow residents, this critical tool should be one our city and state leaders welcome with open arms.

David Fakunle, and Rev. Eric Lee, Baltimore

The writers are, respectively, a research fellow at Morgan State University and director of neighborhood programs at Strong City Baltimore.

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