AUSTIN (KXAN) — A coalition of law enforcement agencies announced a new system that aims to make it faster and easier to investigate bars, clubs, and alcohol retailers for violating Texas liquor laws.
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC), the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Department of Public Safety, the Texas Department of Transportation, the Texas Police Chiefs Association and the Sheriff’s Association of Texas held a press conference Tuesday morning. They announced the creation of TRACE (Target Responsibility for Alcohol-Related Emergencies), a new on-call hotline that will allow officers to contact TABC when a DWI fatality or assault happens because a bar violated liquor laws.
TABC cracks down on retailers who over-serve patrons and who serve to minors but enforcement after an accident is a challenge. Several hurdles get in the way: too much time goes by to interview suspects or review surveillance tapes, many officers can’t cross jurisdictional boundaries like cities or counties, and confusion in handing off tips and cases can fall through bureaucratic cracks.
TABC and law enforcement coalition hopes to reduce risky behavior and speed up investigations on alcohol-related crimes.
Financial grants from TxDOT help pay for the TRACE program. Texas Parks and Wildlife Game Wardens will house the program and staff the dispatch. They will then pass the information along to the regional on-call for TABC.
Real world impact
Police say 22-year-old Cade Brown drove nearly twice the speed limit, drunk, in Buda last week, killing his passenger, Kaleb Nielson, along the way.
TABC is investigating whether bars continued to serve Brown when he was already intoxicated but only after a KXAN reporter alerted the agency to the case.
The truth is, says TABC Executive Director Adrian Bentley Nettles, only ten percent of officers investigating DWIs contact TABC to look into the source.
“Over time the witnesses forget, videos disappear, trying to figure out where they got their last drink becomes very difficult,” said Nettles.
Without this system, investigating DWI deaths is somewhat localized. It’s hard for suburb police departments like Cedar Park, Leander, Round Rock, and Kyle to find out if a bar in downtown Austin was over serving. The task gets easier with TABC partner.
“They can go in and collect video surveillance, credit card receipts, stuff like that for the administration portion of it. It would take me a lot more time to get that information because I’d have to write subpoenas and this and that,” said Irving Officer Stephen Burres III. “As of right now, I call the agents that I particularly know. They may have been transferred, promoted, retired, I have no idea. But now I can call this 800 number.
Currently, TABC has 180 agents in the field. If this new TRACE hotline increases demand, they want to start a special quick response unit in the future.