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Tourism and Crime Statistics Have Not Cleared the Air in Marshall County as Alcohol Vote Nears

On July 17th, Marshall County will settle an issue that has divided the area for months, whether or not to allow the purchase of alcohol within county lines. The county Chamber of Commerce just released statistics saying that Lyon and Calloway Counties experienced some tourism growth after going wet. However, over the past 20 years, dry counties in the Jackson Purchase area also have enjoyed the lowest percentage of DUI convictions per capita. This was compared to wet counties and counties that allowed some alcohol sales.

First of all, Marshall County isn’t completely dry. The town of Calvert City has a local option to sell liquor by the drink at some restaurants like Los Tres Amigos Amigos manager Jessica Soto would like to sell margaritas on Sundays. Helping to run one of the two restaurants in Marshall County that sell alcohol, she knows the switch from a damp city to a wet county could improve her business.

“We have so many people that come in on Sundays, and they’re always, ‘Do you serve alcohol on Sundays?’ and we have to tell them no, and a lot of times, people, they leave. They go somewhere else and they drive 20, 30 minutes away to have some drinks just to drive all the way back.”

But will that extra alcohol jeopardize the safety of Marshall County streets? Will the benefit to Los Tres Amigos and other businesses outweigh any heightened risk of drunk drivers?

To answer these questions, I did some digging. I compared six Kentucky counties possessing populations within 10,000 residents of Marshall’s Looking at the latest information, I picked three wet counties to compare to Marshall along with two other counties that offer no or limited sales. Using Kentucky State Police reports, I looked at county alcohol-related collisions, DUI convictions and total crimes. The findings were a little confusing. The wet counties typically had higher drunk driving collision rates in 2006 and 2010, but Marshall County, a county that offers limited sales, had the highest overall. The reverse was true for DUI convictions in 2010. Also, dry counties and counties with limited alcohol sales typically had lower crime rates in 2006, but no definitive pattern developed for 2010.

I hit a dead end in my research.

But, Marshall 1st, the organization pushing for alcohol sales, did not.

“We had an increase in sales of $19 million.”

That’s Jody Lassiter, President/CEO of the Danville-Boyle County Economic Partnership, talking about the money Danville businesses have made from alcohol beverage sales. Marshall 1st cites the city’s success as an example. Danville went wet in 2010.

“During that same period of time, the city of Danville collected alcohol license fees in the amount of $600,000 for which they have applied to enforcement of the ABC code which primarily targeted to alcoholic beverage control as well as public safety, so it’s actually added two new positions to our police force.”

Lassiter goes on to say that since Danville businesses started selling alcohol, the police have experienced no increase in DUIs and no great increases in crime rates or penalties. In fact, the city received $900,000 in tax revenue from alcohol sales that it uses, in part, for alcohol abuse education.

Conversely, opposing organization, Say No Now, points to both national and local numbers that indicate negative effects of alcohol on economy and safety. According to a study published in the “American Journal of Preventive Medicine”, excessive drinking in the United States cost taxpayers $21 billion in criminal justice expenses in 2006. According to Keith Travis, Vice Chair of Say No Now, if alcohol is guaranteed to boost an economy, it sure didn’t work in Fulton County.

“Fulton County became the county in Kentucky with the highest single unemployment level in the commonwealth. If alcohol was the cure for all economic woes, Fulton County, we wouldn’t think would be in that position.”

Fulton County also has one of the lowest county populations in the state. After those interviews, I went back to the Kentucky State Police Reports. Because traffic problems are hot issues, I honed in on DUI convictions and alcohol-related collisions. After omitting the six counties with populations more than 100,000, I looked at numbers from the remaining 114. I found the top 10 counties for DUI convictions in 2010. Five were wet and five offered limited sales. Then I looked at alcohol-related collisions and finally found a difference. In 2010, seven of the top 10 counties for alcohol-related collisions were wet. The other three only allowed some sales.

That might be a telling statistic. Counties that sold the maximum amount of alcoholic beverages commonly had more collisions than counties that limited their alcohol merchandise.

Yet, when I asked Kentucky State Police Captain David Jude to make sense of the numbers, he said they might not be the most important issue. Adequate law enforcement and alcohol education, he said, should be priorities, no matter what decision Marshall County residents make.

“I think it’s hard to say simply looking at the numbers. I mean, it’s good for comparison to try to get an idea, but as you’re sitting there, but as you’re seeing there as you look at the data that just because a county does not sell alcohol does not mean that they’re exempt from having DUI-related offenses.”

Maybe the statistics don’t matter quite as much as whether or not the county will maintain and its efforts to control drunk driving. Whether or not Los Tres Amigos sells margaritas on Sundays, its customers should know that police would be waiting on the streets outside, doing their best to keep Marshall’s collision numbers low.

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