A temporary ban on the sale of fortified wines in three downtown liquor stores hasn't eased problems with transients in the area, according to a Salt Lake police captain.
But a county official who will study the effects of the ban said it may be keeping drinkers in Pioneer Park and off the streets, although it is too early to know."I can't tell you it's doing what they wanted it to do," said police Capt. Aaron Kennard of the ban that took effect July 1 and will continue through the summer.
Although figures on alcohol-related crimes such as public intoxication, theft and vandalism won't be available until the end of the month, Kennard said he has seen as many or more such calls since the sales stopped.
The two-month ban was sought by Mayor Palmer DePaulis to find out if wines fortified with potent grain alcohol contribute to downtown crime. The wines, which sell for less than $2 a fifth, are the favored drink of the down-and-out.
Area business owners and residents support the ban, originally proposed by the mayor's Downtown Action Committee on Street Problems. However, state alcohol beverage control officials have been less certain it will work.
Operations Manager Dennis Kellen and others have suggested that fortified wine drinkers will either travel to other liquor stores or purchase inexpensive bottles of much stronger alcohol, such as vodka.
Errol Remington, treatment and rehabilitation coordinator for the Salt Lake County Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Service Division, said it is important to keep the study in perspective.
"It's just an experiment, and no one can say for sure what the results will be. It's all speculation.
"This is just one of many things being tried to combat problems that have been with us for many years. There were articles about transients in Pioneer Park back in the 1800s. Historically in that area, we've had problems with intoxication, panhandling, trespassing, littering, loitering, some kinds of petty theft and harassment of people - particularly women."
One way the drinkers who frequent the area in and around Pioneer Park are probably getting fortified wine is through so-called "bootleggers" who purchase the beverage at a suburban liquor store and then re-sell it.
While no one has been arrested for bootlegging Thunderbird or other brands of fortified wines, Kennard said officers have put the word out that if someone is caught, he or she will be harshly punished.
"We hope to get somebody so we can make an example of him," he said.
Kennard said he fears the ban could actually create more crime if fortified-wine drinkers turn to more-expensive forms of alcohol. He said the drinkers may either increase their panhandling or steal for the additional money they need.
The reason for Kennard's pessimism is his doubt that just trying to separate drinkers from their drinks will cure their alcoholism. He said he favors a get-tough approach with the chronic drinkers who refuse help.
Remington is more optimistic. "It's still early, so this is mainly speculation," he said, "but more in Pioneer Park are going to detox than jail. They seem to be drinking in the park, rather than on the street."
The study of the effects of the ban will focus on the area from Second South to Fifth South and from Main Street to Fifth West. Remington will compile the data and hopes to have recommendations by the end of October.
The stores where the fortified wines have been banned are: 205 W. Fourth South, 54 N. Eighth West and 1457 S. Main.