The Alcohol Task Force meeting on Tuesday night was packed with leaders of community organizations. The one thing missing was the public, with only two people in the audience.
The Task Force went over what alcohol impact data agencies were able to provide. The numbers show that more people are being negatively affected by alcohol since Bethel began legal sales. The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation Sobering Center saw a 13 percent increase in visits in 2016, a 24 percent increase last year, and a 19 percent increase so far this year.
This aligns with the Bethel Police Department’s data. The Department only started tracking alcohol-related calls last September, but Police Chief Burke Waldron provided a list of call types together that are “overwhelmingly known to be alcohol related,” and plans to assemble a larger report. Between 2013 and 2017, the list shows increased calls for intoxicated pedestrians since Bethel began legal sales, said Waldron, along with sexual assaults, which are “also taking quite a spike.”
That agrees with what the Tundra Women’s Coalition has seen. Comparing 2015, which was prior to legal sales, to 2017, which was post legal sales, they’ve seen a 20 percent increase in acute sexual assaults. This, of course, includes only those cases that are reported. TWC Director Eileen Arnold added that sexual assault is well known to be an underreported crime. Arnold said that the shelter's domestic violence numbers haven’t changed, but that anecdotally, as more drinking goes on in homes, more shelter requests are made by individuals wanting to leave their homes to be safe.
Raymond Watson, the Board Chairman of the Association of Village Council Presidents, would like to know how the data breaks down in relation to tribal affiliation.
“Of this person who ends up in the Sobering Center, or who is sexually assaulted, or gotten a DWI, how many of them got a tribal ID card? Because that’s what comes to mind,” said Watson.
There was some discussion of potential actions to address increases in alcohol-related problems locally and regionally, including what's being called the “banned list” of people to whom alcohol could not be sold. District Attorney Stephen Wallace and Task Force members discussed privacy considerations, something that may take a court determination.
Task Force members encourage and hope for more public input at the next meeting set for June 19th.