The violent crimes at the geographic heart of Paterson has a connection to the large number of liquor shops, according to a new study by the Paterson Coalition Against Substance Abuse (P-CASA).
Paterson has three times the number of liquor business as a city of its population should, according to the study. The city has 198 liquor licenses, which is three times as many based on the guidelines of the New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control. For every 3,000 persons there should be one consumption license, those used by bars and restaurant, and for every 7,500 persons one distribution license, needed for liquor stores and bodegas, according to the state’s guideline.
“Paterson has three times the amount of liquor selling establishments than what the state, for this population density, designates,” David Lardier, a data specialist with the group, told council members on Tuesday night.
The problem of having so many liquor outlets is clearly highlighted in a map the group projected onto a screen. The map showed a yellow area in the 4th and 5th Wards as the epicenter of violence. This area has more liquor stores than any other part of the Silk City.
“That area is not only the nexus of violent crimes in the city, but it’s also the location with the most alcohol establishments. There’s a clear relationship between alcohol outlet density and violent crimes,” said Lardier.
The proliferation of liquor shops has allowed easy access to alcohol to young people. 28-percent of students under the age of 13 have used alcohol. This is twice the state and national averages, the study said.
Robert Reid, a professor at Montclair State University, said the group surveyed 1,858 students from 2013-17. The findings included girls in high school were more likely than boys to use alcohol.
The research also led to the discovery of some positive trends, noted the professor. Due to work by the group and the Paterson Municipal Alliance, young people have become more aware of the risks alcohol use at an early age. It leads to abuse of other drugs and antisocial behavior, says the study.
In 2013, 39-percent of young people saw “great risk” in using alcohol; in 2017, that number has climbed to 48-percent.
“Something is resonating with this cohort of young people,” said Lardier. “Something is also not working and it probably has to do with access to alcohol in the city.”
Paterson liquor established are routinely hit with selling to minors. From 2010-13, the city’s alcohol businesses paid $80,000 in fines for selling to young people under 21. And those businesses also paid $200,000 in fines for illegal activities on premise.
One particular business paid $141,400 in fines for committing 18 offenses over a five-year period, says the study.
Reid said the city can address the nuisance problems created by alcohol businesses through passage of nuisance abatement ordinances. This will allow the city to start collecting penalties and use those funds to educate young people and lessen the impact of so many liquor shops on young people and residents.
The anti-nuisance ordinances would force businesses to pay for increased calls for services for loitering, drug sales, noise complaints, and other problems that spring up in the vicinity of a liquor business.
The professor also noted an ordinance in Paterson allows for 300 liquor licenses. He also suggested requiring mandatory training for alcohol business representatives and operators.
“We’ve connected the dots,” said Reid, who serves as the program director for the coalition.
Council members were troubled by the data presented by the professor and his team.
“I saw this data and it troubled me a lot,” said Velez. He said some liquor businesses are actively marketing to young people. “They have candy bars and things that attract youth into the liquor stores,” he said.
“We’re seeing such a rampant disregard for the age limit,” said council president William McKoy. He noted the same problem as Velez, “We’re merging them in too many ways.” The merger of neighborhood grocery and liquor stores creates easy access for young people, he said.
The council president directed the public safety committee to consider the nuisance measures proposed by the professor. Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman, told the group the city has passed a law requiring license holders and their agents to undergo mandatory training.
“The data is very alarming and it looks like it’s increasing every year,” added Alex Mendez, councilman at-large. He suggested the Paterson state legislative delegation introduce measures to control the number of liquor licenses in the city.
Some council members also pointed out the city’s business curfew ordinance has forced the shutdown of late night liquor businesses. Mendez’s position appears to be a deviation from his past stance.
Mendez sided with liquor business owners in trying to weaken the business curfew ordinance. He and his colleagues also passed a measure earlier this year to dismantle the liquor license retirement fund whose purpose was to buy licenses and retire them to reduce the number of liquor shops.
The retirement fund though was not successful in acquiring licenses due to the low amount of money it was willing to pay license holders, according to liquor store owners.
Paterson does not issue new licenses. The large number of licenses have always existed. The problem is also not a new one. Former mayor Frank X. Graves, who was the chief executive of the city in the 1960s and 1980s, often grumbled about the large number of taverns in Paterson.
The city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC) has been soft on violators often letting repeat violators off the hook largely to prevent owners from appealing to the state. In one famous example, the local ABC board revoked the license of the troubled Wild Bull bar only to reinstate it weeks later. The board’s action received condemnation from the councilman who represents the area where the troublesome establishment is located.
“Paterson has a problem,” said Velez. The problem may have to be tackled delicately, for cities that have had success in revitalizing themselves have done so through promotion of nightlife.