Even though the city's experimental program banning fortified wines from a downtown liquor store may bring on modern-day bootlegging in Salt Lake City, Mayor Palmer DePaulis said he may still endorse making the ban permanent.
Nearly a score of homeless people, joined by neighbors of the downtown liquor store and members of the Mayor's Action Committee on Street Population Problems, met Tuesday to review the 3-week-old ban.Some police officials are skeptical the plan will be effective, while state officials said it may lead to bootlegging of cheap wine. But neighbors of the liquor store, frequented by the area's homeless, applaud the measure.
"If it solves the problem at a neighborhood level, we may be able to live with the bootlegging problem," DePaulis told the Deseret News.
Upon the mayor's recommendation, the Utah Commission on Alcoholic Beverage Control agreed to ban wines from July 1 to Aug. 31 at a liquor store at 205 W. Fourth South. The ban, a reaction to neighborhood complaints about alcohol-related incidents, targets wines such as "Thunderbird," which are fortified with additional alcohol.
Salt Lake Police Sgt. Mac Connole told the committee alcohol-related crime statistics won't be available until later in July. But some police officials have been critical of the plan.
"I think it's a joke. It's just going to move the problem from one place to another," said a Salt Lake police official wishing to remain anonymous.
Another police official said alcohol-related crimes in the neighborhood - bounded by Second South, Fifth South, Main Street and Fifth West - have not decreased since the ban.
"We're handling the same number of drunks, transients and panhandlers," Capt. Aaron Kennard said. "All we have done is shifted it from one area to another."
Dennis Kellen, operations manager for the beverage-control commission, told the committee that fortified wine sales in outlying, state-owned liquor stores, in Murray, for example, are increasing since the ban went into effect.
Although the commission will not have precise figures until Aug. 15, Kellen said sales of other, stronger alcoholic beverages such as vodka and less potent wines are increasing at the downtown stores.
Also, sales of fortified wine in cases are on the upswing, pointing to a "bootlegging business that is starting up," Kellen said.
But neighbors in the area reported improvements in alcohol-related incidents, littering and homeless traffic to and from the liquor store.
"We see a substantial effect; in brief, we've got our neighborhood back," said Richard Muir, of E.O. Muir Associates, who said he was representing the neighborhood near the liquor store.
The area has seen a "two-thirds improvement" in incidents of loitering, public intoxication, and "offensive public behavior," Muir said.
Additionally, Errol Remington, treatment and rehabilitation coordinator for the Salt Lake County Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Service Division, said incidents of intoxicated people at area homeless facilities are declining. In the first week of June, 40 intoxicated people were reported at two facilities. In the Third week of July, 17 were reported. Similar statistics for previous years or other months have not been kept, Remington said.
Muir's analysis and support expressed by other neighbors prompted DePaulis to favor making the ban permanent, which must be approved by the commission, possibly in October.
DePaulis said the plan's effect on neighborhoods has been "dramatic," which would justify making the ban permanent despite other potential problems, such as bootlegging.