Police chief expects no crime hike if beer hours change

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Vicksburg Police Chief Walter Armstrong said this morning his department has no statistical data on how 24-hour alcohol sales affect crime rates, but added he would not expect crime to increase if restrictions on alcohol sales passed in 2008 were lifted.

“I wouldn’t expect an increase in crime at all, because the availability of booze 24 hours a day already exists,” said Armstrong, who was installed as chief in July. “We know that people are traveling out of the county and across the river bridge to purchase alcohol, and the casinos all serve alcohol 24 hours a day.”

Beer sales

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According to an ordinance passed in 2008, beer and light wines may not be sold from 2 a.m. until 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday, or from 2 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Sundays. In addition, the ordinance prohibits single beer sales from ice chests in convenience and grocery stores.

Winfield wants restrictions on the hours beer can be sold repealed because he said the city is losing tax money. In addition, he wants a ban on beer being sold from ice chests at convenience and grocery stores lifted. Armstrong acknowledged alcohol consumption can lead to disturbances and traffic wrecks, but maintained limiting alcohol sales by a few hours a night doesn’t necessarily mean people will be forced to limit their consumption. 

“Whether you get it from the casinos or outside the city, people are still getting alcohol 24 hours a day — that’s going to happen with or without the ordinance,” he said. “We have no stats that indicate that if we stop selling alcohol at any given time that it’s going to make one difference one way or the other.”

The mayor also maintains there is no correlation between increased violent crime and 24-hour beer sales or single-beer sales — which was the rationale behind the March 2008 ordinances.

“I don’t think the sale of single beers from an ice chest contributes to crime,” said Winfield, an attorney who took office in July after defeating two-term incumbent Laurence Leyens.

The 2008 ordinance, passed during the Leyens administration, was requested by former Police Chief Tommy Moffett and Deputy Chief Richard O’Bannon, who presented 2007 statistics that related late-night drinking to an increase in crimes such as DUIs, fights and homicides.

About 109 violent crimes — including murders, aggravated assaults, rapes and robbery — were reported through August in Vicksburg this year, compared to 248 in all of 2008, according to the FBI’s Mississippi Crime Statistics.

“I have some statistics that I think will contradict that,” said Winfield, adding he could not provide those statistics at this time.

The issue of repealing the 2008 alcohol ordinance came up at a city board meeting Friday when Vicksburg resident and Vicksburg Zoning Board member Tommie Rawlings suggested the mayor and aldermen again allow 24-hour sales. Winfield and South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman spoke out on opposing sides, and North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield said he needed more time to study it. Both aldermen voted in support of the restrictions last year.

“I’m not going to arbitrarily change it because a few people want to be out there at 3 a.m. buying beer,” said Mayfield, who added most convenience store owners have told him they do not have a problem with the tighter regulations.

Beauman speculated there has been no decrease in alcohol sales or sales tax collections in the city since the ordinances took effect, while Winfield said Vicksburg residents are routinely going to Louisiana or into the county to purchase alcohol after hours.

The city collected $6,921,140 in sales taxes through August of this fiscal year, compared with $6,994,545 in the same period for fiscal year 2007-08 — a drop of 1.05 percent.

Beauman also cited three intersections where police were called repeatedly to break up fights and loitering before the stricter rules on beer sales. Since the ordinance passed, Beauman said, “We haven’t had one incident” at those locations.

No figures on dispatches to those addresses were available from Vicksburg-Warren County 911 this morning.

“I think the biggest problem we would have is loitering on the streets. I think it would be back to that,” Beauman said of reversing the ordinances.

Armstrong said Monday he would begin to gather statistics on the number of crimes reported before and after the ordinances.

Winfield contends the ordinances were passed merely to give the impression the police were getting tougher on crime.

“I think they were approved to appease a certain segment of the population into thinking that the city was being very proactive towards crime,” the mayor said. “I don’t agree with that. If we’re going to do something, let’s do it right.”

The mayor said he believes loitering concerns should be the responsibility of business owners.

“When someone calls the police and asks for a lot to be cleared, we have a responsibility to do that. But it needs to be a public/private partnership,” Winfield said.

State law through the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control limits the hours of liquor stores, which do not sell beer, from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and does not allow the stores to operate on Sundays.


Contact Tish Butts at tbutts@vicksburgpost.com

Contact Steve Sanoski at ssanoski@vicksburgpost.com