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State Panel Continues Review of ABC

Posted: Updated: Jul 22, 2015 05:50 PM
Alcoholic Beverage Control Enforcement Expert Review Panel Alcoholic Beverage Control Enforcement Expert Review Panel
RICHMOND, Va. (WVIR) -

A state review panel is trying to figure out what, if anything, needs to change with the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) enforcement branch.

The review comes after public scrutiny from a pair of controversial arrests ABC agents conducted in Charlottesville. Both incidents involved students at the University of Virginia. The arrest of Martese Johnson led Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) to order some immediate changes to the ABC.

Now, the head of the Virginia State Police (VSP) is talking about the possibility of a partial merger.

"It's I guess a nice concept, but when you talk about making that transition today after the years and years that we've been separated, it's not an easy thing," said VSP Superintendent Col. Steve Flaherty.

The Alcoholic Beverage Control Enforcement Expert Review Panel met in the state capitol Wednesday. The panel is considering what duties ABC agents should be entrusted with.

"We're really anxious to hear from local law enforcement on how they believe it would work if we either abolished ABC enforcement or handed it over to the Virginia State Police," said Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran.

Talks of change for the ABC were re-ignited in March following the bloody arrest of UVA student Martese Johnson. Similar concerns swirled in 2013 when UVA student Elizabeth Daly found herself surrounded by ABC agents with guns drawn after they mistook her sparking water for alcohol.

"Again, we want to make sure that all of the agents are retrained, and make sure incidents of this nature don't occur anywhere in the commonwealth," Moran said.

Despite calls from some lawmakers and activists to strip the ABC of its arresting power, Col. Flaherty says there are challenges with absorbing that unique position. He says there would be hurdles, from funding to training, equipment and more.

"If it's the public policy decision to do it differently, then we'll deal with that too, but our relationship's strong and I have confidence in ABC," Flaherty said.

Charges were eventually dropped against both Johnson and Daly from those arrests.

The panel, after months of study and meetings, will come up with final proposals this fall ahead of the next General Assembly session.

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