Only 109 agents of the State Bureau of Investigation are tasked with enforcing alcohol law in the 100 counties that make up North Carolina. Yet the presence of Alcohol Law Enforcement is strongly felt in Chapel Hill.
ALE Special Agent in Charge Bryan House said there’s been confusion about ALE’s presence in Chapel Hill specifically because Chapel Hill Police has an ALE division of their own.
“When you think about our command staff and supervision, there are actually only about 80 some field agents,” he said. “So, a lot of times we get confused with other agencies. Because, ‘oh there’s so many of them' — but that’s not necessarily ALE then.”
The state agency makes up for its relatively small size by forming partnerships with local police departments, sheriffs and district attorney's offices, House said.
“We work with stakeholders of all kinds to try and solve problems as they relate to alcohol and places that sell alcohol specifically whether they be legal or illegal,” he said. “Typically, what that looks like for us is we take an all-crimes approach as it relates to enforcement and that is at places that sell alcohol, specifically.”
ALE’s primary focus is on violence prevention, but the agency addresses any complaints brought to it by its partners, House said. With vast diversity throughout the state, the agency tries to have an even standard by applying consistent enforcement.
"Now, consistent means we want to lay the same attention in every county, but it’s different. Whatever the crimes are that occur they are sort of different — a different focus. That may be complaint driven by our stakeholders or it may be crime driven. It may be violence driven.”
While ALE works with many agencies, their involvement is limited to UNC Police, said spokesperson Randy Young in an email.
“UNC Police collaborates with ALE on investigations, but this is rare, as the sale of alcohol on campus is limited to special occasions and locations,” he said. “Both ALE and UNC Police, as well as other town and campus entities, participate in the Campus and Community Coalition to Reduce the Negative Impacts of High Risk Drinking.”
Chapel Hill students who have had interactions with ALE agents are likely to run across agents within the Chapel Hill Police Department. Clark Dickens, ALE investigator for the CHPD, said his unit has conducted more operations as of late to increase the consistency of alcohol law enforcement in Chapel Hill.
“We’ve found that’s been better for us and for the community,” Dickens said. “They know the expectations we have because we’re there more frequently, rather than you see us twice a semester and that’s it. We’re doing it for more consistency and its helped.”
The increased regularity has helped reduce violations in town, Dickens said.
“Whereas there was a time, I believe it was last semester, we had an operation where we wrote 17 fake ID citations,” he said. “That was all during about an hour and a half period. We have come nowhere close to that this year. We’re trending in the right direction.”
The enforcement operations Chapel Hill ALE conducts now usually include posting agents outside popular bars around town to help those businesses comply with the law.
“We’ve seen that’s really helped so we go out and do that at multiple businesses during those operations just to help them out,” he said. "It helps them to deter those who may be underage or over intoxicated from even trying to come into their establishments. We’ve seen a really positive response from businesses when it comes to that.”
The State Bureau of Investigation's ALE division not only works on alcohol law enforcement, but also deals with the related crimes of gambling violations and human trafficking.
“For instance, (human trafficking) goes on at some of our exotic bars and clubs with exotic dancers and things like that,” he said. “We have seen that as a newer trend in the last few years of those dancers being trafficked, or restaurant workers. Places that have ABC permits that are restaurants, we see restaurant workers being the victims of human trafficking.”
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