This past year, alcohol elections have sparked much controversy in South Plains communities. Some have passed, but many have failed. The opponents call it a matter of morality. Some even say a dry community is a safer community. Proponents say it could mean big money for the economy.
NewsChannel 11 spent two months investigating the issue. We wanted to know if there is a relationship between a wet county and a high crime rate, specifically DWI offenses, which is the main argument many communities use to defeat the idea of packaged liquor sales. Here is the results of that study.
The city of Littlefield is a quiet town of about 6,400. However, in September, the peaceful streets were filled with a noisy debate.
City Manager, Danny Davis said, "Basically half the town was happy."
Littlefield voters went to the polls to decide if they wanted alcohol to be sold within the city. Something the First Baptist Church Pastor, Joe Steward could not swallow. "Just the availability of that, we believe raises crime, creates more dependence on alcohol and those kind of things. And so we just believe it's better for our community."
The idea failed by only 27 votes.
Davis said, "It's probably like any other things people perceive as a moral issue. There are certain people that it's not a moral issue to them, but to other people it is."
Davis said the First Baptist Church campaigned hard during the election. They said more alcohol could mean dangerous streets and increased DWI's. In fact, NewsChannel 11 spoke to many communities who say the fear of increased DWI's is what often keeps them from changing.
So we decided to check for ourselves. NewsChannel 11 obtained the Department of Public Safety's 2003 report of DWI arrests. We compared the dozens of dry counties in the South Plains to wet counties of comparable populations.
We start with Lubbock county, which is mostly dry. Midland and Ector counties are 100% wet. Lubbock reports 1,634 DWI's. Midland and Ector counties combined, report 1,525, a difference of 109. When you look at the numbers per capita: wet Midland and Ector counties have five more DWI's than dry Lubbock County.
Here's a comparison to Crosby County and Garza County. Per capita, dry Crosby County reports 75 DWI's. Garza County is partly wet, they come in with 64 offenses.
Perhaps one of the more interesting comparisons; the mostly dry Dawson County had 101 DWI's in 2003. Wet Gillespie County reported 70 DWI's. What's notable is that Gillespie has around 7,000 more people, per capita they report 123 offenses. The dry, less populated Dawson is higher at 142.
Currently, Las Yabnez is the only place in Dawson County to buy alcohol. The wet city is an "oasis" of sorts to the constant flow of customers who frequently take the ten minute drive from Lamesa. One man who drives there nearly everyday said, "It would be better if it was in town. We want it. I want it in town. I already singed the petition."
In January 2004, a petition to allow alcohol sales was just 172 signatures short of sending the issue to an election.
Dawson County Judge, Sam Saleh has researched the matter, he said he can't see a difference between wet or dry areas. "From what I've been able to determine," said Saleh, "I don't think it makes a great deal of difference either way on crime rate."
When specifically looking at DWI's, NewsChannel 11's investigation appears to back up his claim. Two out of three dry counties we showed you have more DWI's than the wet or partially wet counties.
Whether or not packaged beer and wine sales really affect the crime rate is debatable. One thing that is not, the passion for some to keep alcohol where it is. Pastor Stewart said, "Our desire is to hopefully stay dry, just for the purpose of our future generations, our children."
Another petition to sell alcohol within the city of Littlefield is currently circulating, which is due to the county clerk's office May 16th.
Littlefield could soon face another alcohol election. Currently, signatures from another petition are being counted.
Economics is another issue concerning packaged liquor sales. In a story NewsChannel 11 researched last year, we found that selling beer and wine in the city of Lubbock would increase sales tax revenue by over $850,000 a year.
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