Eugene's malt liquor 'ban' may be cutting crime

Eugene's malt liquor 'ban' may be cutting crime »Play Video

EUGENE, Ore. – For three months last year, markets in the Whiteaker area stopped selling high-alcohol content malt liquor.

The drinks in question are typically sold in 24-ounce cans for large cans for less two bucks. Each can contains 9 percent alcohol – and Eugene police officers believe alcohol can fuel crime.

The voluntary ban happened after the murder of transient James Pelfrey in August 2008. He was stabbed to death in broad daylight near the park beneath the Washington Street Bridge. Shortly after the murder, people in Eugene's Whiteaker neighborhood demanded safer streets.

"We had to put our heads together to find a creative solution," said Eugene Police Sergeant Terry Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick met with Oregon Liquor Control Commission investigator Mark Jaehnig and they decided to try a ban on high content alcohol. The markets volunteered to ban certain products for three months between October 2009 and January 2010.

But did the ban have the effect law enforcement officials had hoped?

If we weren't getting complaints from the neighbors we were getting calls from the police department and/or police reports," Jaehnig said. "Once the ban started we didn't see any complaints."

KATU's Eugene sister station, KVAL, reviewed the numbers from the Eugene Police Department's crime-stat department with both Fitzpatrick and Jaehnig. There were 56 crimes in the Whiteaker neighborhood during the ban period. In the same three months during the year before there were 187 crimes reported. That's an estimated drop in the crime rate of 70 percent.

In Portland, in the city's Office of Neighborhood Involvement began discussions to have West Portland markets voluntarily stop selling certain kinds of high-alcohol beer. Here's the map of potentially impacted areas.

KATU reported that not all businesses were on board with the idea. A city official reportedly responded that if the Office of Neighborhood Involvement can't get 100 percent compliance from stores then the city will request the state to demand the change.