Police and addresses

Feb 27, 2014 By Steven R. Peck

A year-end report shows an interesting quirk in statistics on liquor-related calls

An interesting point in reporter Alejandra Silva's story in Sunday's edition about police calls to local liquor establishments touched on the computer software used by the Riverton Police Department.

As explained by Riverton Police Chief Mike Broadhead, the system the department uses to chart the calls yields information based on the address but not the nature of the call. That can be an important difference. As the liquor sellers point out, the fact that the police are called to a business that sells liquor doesn't necessarily mean an alcohol-related offense has been committed there.

If an RPD car is sent to a fender-bender on a snowy day in the parking lot of a grocery store that has a package liquor license to do business inside, the call log will show it as a police response to a liquor establishment even though the incident that prompted the call is not alcohol-related.

Similarly, if someone grabs a Snickers bar and makes a run for it at a store where alcohol can be purchased on the other side of the building, the subsequent cop call shows a response to an address occupied by a liquor license holder.

Even a stop-sign violation that yields a pull-over outside a bar might pop up on the report. So, at the end of the year when a summary of "police response to liquor establishments" is prepared, the numbers can tell a bigger story than intended.

In that case, perhaps it's time for the RPD and the City of Riverton to look into a computerized log system that can do a bit more filtering so that non-alcohol offenses at alcohol establishments don't make the situation out to be worse than it is months later when it's time to tally up the year.

This recommendation does not come from a position of expertise on this kind of computer software. RPD certainly isn't doing something wrong in its report. This is the system we have, and these are its capabilities. Perhaps it can't be improved affordably. But if it can, then RPD is a good candidate for an upgrade.

Some of this might be akin to splitting hairs. Any RPD officer will tell you that the single biggest common denominator in his or her daily call sheet is alcohol. From shoplifting to domestic violence, from traffic violations to homicide, crime and booze are linked significantly and inextricably.

No piece of computer software will change that. But as Riverton tries to take the lead on raising the tax on beer statewide, with proceeds to be used for the prevention of alcohol-related crime and treatment of alcohol abusers, it makes sense to be armed with the best data available to present to the public and to legislators considering the issue.

Likewise, as local government continues to look for ways to combat alcohol-related crime, public-health expense, and the erosion of the community's image, liquor establishments are under pressure to assist in that effort. It doesn't do anyone any good for the statistics that are part of that pressure to be inaccurate if it can be avoided.

Alcohol crime and alcohol abuse are a serious business. No doubt the system being used was the best available at the time within the budget. Now, however, if a better, affordable setup can be found to compile a statistically precise database useful to this important work, everyone would be better served.

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