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The concern is commonplace: Allowing alcohol sales will bring more crime, including drunken driving, to a formerly dry town.

 

But local officials and police agree that no such negative consequences have become evident since 2013, when Nash became the first Bowie County, Texas, town to go wet.

Document: Alcohol crash rates

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The perception that drinking is generally harmful has a long history in the United States, culminating in complete Prohibition from 1920 to 1933. Almost a century later the idea lives on in claims, often made by religious leaders, of a direct correlation between alcohol availability and a host of social ills, including crime.

John Miller, pastor of Texarkana's Church on the Rock, is typical of those who argue that when alcohol comes to town, repercussions follow. He opposed the Texas side going wet in November 2014 and says his thinking about it has not changed.

"Alcohol has a very bad and dark side to it," he said. "Logically, the easier alcohol is to get, the more available it is, the more problems are going to be created."

Drunken driving and domestic violence top Miller's list of the harmful results of convenient access to beer and wine. But ask those in newly wet towns who have watched carefully for any rise in such crimes, and the response is consistent: They just have not seen it.

Nash has seen "absolutely no increase in crime related to alcohol sales at all. None," said city administrator Doug Bowers.

"We actually did exhaustive studies. We contacted the Alcoholic Beverage Commission and found out what cities had gone wet with the same permits we were looking for and contacted the chiefs of police of several of those.

"I really came to the understanding that had our crime rate increased, we would have been the only one in the state of Texas' history. And I said, 'I'm not saying for sure, but I'm going to bet you it's a 99 percent chance it's not going to increase.' And it looks like, lo and behold, we were correct," Bowers said.

Other city officials agree.

"The sale of beer and wine in our city has had zero effect on our crime rate. There has been no increase whatsoever, and in fact there seems to be a decline," DeKalb, Texas, city administrator Abbi Capps said. DeKalb went wet in November 2015.

"We have had these discussions with our local police chief, and he has not seen any type of crime rates increase because of (alcohol sales)," said Darla Faulknor, city secretary of New Boston, Texas, which also elected to allow beer and wine sales in 2015.

"There aren't any drunks hanging around on the corner, no prostitution," said Mayor Robert Lorance of Redwater, Texas, the third Bowie County town that went wet in 2015.

With one exception, going wet has not increased crime in Texarkana, Texas, either, according to Police Department public information officer Shawn Vaughn.

"Given that alcohol has been readily available across the state line for years, having beer and wine sales in Texas have not had a meaningful impact on us. The numbers of DWI, public intoxication, family violence, etc., have actually remained fairly constant over time. However, the one area that we have seen an increase is beer thefts from stores. Those have remained relatively high since they started selling it on our side," he said.

Texas Department of Transportation records reveal a similar story regarding drunken driving in Bowie County since 2013: The rate of alcohol-related car crashes has remained about level or decreased.

Countywide, such crashes averaged 95 per year from 2007 through 2013. That average dropped to 90.67 per year from 2014 through 2016.

Texarkana, Texas, averaged 37.875 alcohol-related crashes per year from 2007 through 2014; the average dropped to 34.5 per year in 2015 and 2016. There were none in Redwater in 2016, whereas the average for the previous nine years was one per year. Nash's average has stayed virtually the same, 1.86 from 2007 through 2013 and two from 2014 through 2016. DeKalb never saw more than one alcohol-related crash per year from 2007 through 2015, and there was one there in 2016.

The only outlier, New Boston, saw two alcohol-related crashes in 2016, up slightly from the average for the previous nine years, 1.2.

Such statistics do not surprise John Hatch, whose company Texas Petition Strategies was behind most of the wet-election petition drives undertaken since 2003, when he was instrumental in changing Texas law to make them easier. Since 1998, Hatch—whose clients include Walmart, Brookshire's and other major retailers—has pushed more than 300 petitions in almost 200 jurisdictions, forcing elections 84 percent of the time.

"The fallacy on the crime issue is simply that these towns are not dry for consumption; they were just dry for the sale. It wasn't that people in Bowie County weren't drinking. They were just buying it somewhere else," he said, arguing that selling alcohol closer to buyers decreases both consumption and alcohol-related driving fatalities.

"When you're forcing somebody to go drive 20 to 30 minutes, guess what they do when the get there? They don't just buy a six-pack. They buy a case, they buy two cases, because they don't know when they're going to get back to the store again. So they buy two or three times what they would normally buy. Oh, and do you think they might pop a top on the way back?" Hatch said.

Still, not all problems caused by alcohol will show up in crime statistics, Miller argued. He cited neighborhood deterioration, the effect on children of pervasive alcohol advertising, and the personal devastation that can result from alcoholism even when the alcoholic does not run afoul of the law.

"What I do as a pastor in pastoral care is to help people recover from a lot of problems that alcohol created, whether it's contribution to domestic violence, whether it's a contribution to people foregoing a responsible life and just having fun drinking and partying.

"And alcohol is an entry door to drugs; most people who do drugs drink. It's kind of a first step that our culture promotes vigorously, yet we kind of sweep under the rug the problems that happen."

Miller said the potential consequences of the city's wet law weigh on his mind.

"I wonder every time I hear or I read about an alcohol-related death or injury, did they buy that alcohol on the Texas side?" he said.

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