Report 97111 Summary - May 1998

Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control:

Weaknesses in Its Enforcement Program Leave It Vulnerable to Allegations of Unfair Practices

Results in Brief

The Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (department) is responsible for enforcing the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act, which provides for the licensing and regulation of the manufacture, sale, purchase, and transportation of alcoholic beverages within the State. Almost all of the department's enforcement efforts are responses to outside complaints from local law enforcement agencies, citizens, and other state and federal agencies.

Our review assessed whether the department's enforcement actions discriminated against establishments serving minority clientele. Because the department does not maintain sufficient data for us to conclude whether it discriminated against these establishments, we used various sampling techniques to attempt to address this issue. While we found no pattern of discrimination in our limited sample, we also lacked enough information to be able to say that no discrimination takes place. Our review did uncover other issues of concern in the department, however. For instance, district offices are not always consistent in the promptness or extent of their complaint investigations, even for high-priority complaints. In addition, they are not consistent in the penalties they assess licensees and in their application of mitigating or aggravating conditions during penalty assessments. It is because of the department's lack of clear guidance for prioritizing complaints and assessing penalties that it is vulnerable to accusations of discrimination.

The department also lacks the necessary information for good management decisions, relying on inaccurate data extracted manually from records at the district offices to track its enforcement activity and to report its workload to the Legislature. Recognizing that its current information system does not meet its basic needs, the department plans to update and enhance its automated system by April 30, 1999.

Recommendations

So that it can better serve the public by ensuring prompt follow-up of complaints that pose an immediate threat to public safety, the department should take the following action:

  • Establish a formal system for prioritizing each complaint by type and by the number of previous complaints about the licensee. This system should alert district management to high-priority complaints that need prompt action.

  • Encourage district offices to use the services of Special Operations Units' staff.

  • Review alternatives to staffing and workload assignments to determine if other personnel or contractors could handle some administrative duties currently performed by investigative staff, thus freeing investigators for more complaint follow-up.
In addition, to ensure that it assesses penalties consistently throughout the State, the department should provide specific guidance for applying aggravating and mitigating factors and for dealing with subsequent violations when assessing penalties.

Furthermore, so that both headquarters and district offices can more effectively monitor enforcement activities, the department should do the following:

  • Develop and implement an efficient system that captures and summarizes the districts' enforcement activity.

  • Establish a formal policy requiring headquarters and district management to routinely review patterns of enforcement activities to decide how to distribute its investigative resources.
Finally, to provide for more efficient and accurate reporting of enforcement activity, the department should establish procedures that require the district offices to perform a routine review and periodic reconciliation of the data to the supporting records. The procedures should also require the district offices to track and report complaints and referrals separately from other enforcement activities so that the department will know the status of complaints against licensees.

Agency Comments

The Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control concurs with each of the findings we reported. Further, it has established timelines for the completion of corrective action on each.


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