State of Texas suspends public intoxication stings
(4/13/06 - DALLAS, TX) -- The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission said Wednesday it has suspended a crackdown on public intoxication after a public outcry over the program that sends undercover officers into drinking establishments.
Spokeswoman Carolyn Beck said the agency first announced its decision Tuesday in a letter to State Rep. Kino Flores, chairman of the House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee.
The Palmview Democrat had asked the head of the commission, Alan Steen, last month to consider a temporary moratorium on the program until a hearing scheduled for Monday.
The commission announced last week that it was conducting an internal investigation of the program.
Beck said the commission opted to put the program on hold "just to give us time to sift through all the information we've received and pull together all the information and determine the best way to proceed."
Under the program, undercover officers have visited bars to ticket or arrest bar patrons who are deemed exceedingly drunk.
More than 2,200 bar patrons or workers have been arrested or issued citations since August. The purpose is to stop the sale of alcoholic beverages to people who are drunk and, as a result, cut down on the number of drunken drivers.
Public intoxication is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500.
But media reports about the program after a sting last month in the Dallas suburb of Irving prompted criticism that the arrests could prove bad for business if they drive away conventions and other tourists.
Beck said the commission had been considering the suspension after the flood of complaints related to the Irving stings.
The commission has not set a date to reinstate the program.
"We're just delaying the operations until we've had time to go through the information we received," Beck said.
The Monday hearing will continue as planned and will also include the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, Beck said.
The commission has been doing stings in bars since 2001, but began doing more over the summer after getting additional funding from the Legislature for about 100 more employees.
TABC officials have emphasized that those targeted by undercover officers have been quite drunk, clocking on average a blood alcohol level of .17, twice the legal limit.
Participating officers are instructed to a look for a collection of behaviors, including stumbling, an inability to stand or being inappropriately loud.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving lauded the effort to stop the over-service of drunken people. In 2004, 1,642 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes in Texas, according to MADD.
But tourism officials objected to the crackdown. They said the possibility of getting arrested or cited for drinking in a hotel bar, even when one has no plans to drive, could drive away tourists and conventions. Bar owners also objected to the program as heavy-handed.
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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