RANCHO MIRAGE -Shelley Bishop has spent the last 25 years as an investigator with the Department of Alcohol Beverage Control, California’s vice unit. It keeps an eye on businesses with liquor licenses.
For ABC investigators, it’s a dangerous job.They’re watching stores to make sure alcohol isn’t being sold to kids.They go undercover to bust drug and prostitution rings.
Bishop says adding to the danger are the furloughs,now three Fridays every month.
“We can’t do our job effectively with…it’s hard to begin with, now near impossible,” Bishopnoted.”Kids every day of the week are out there trying to buy alcohol. Drug dealers don’t know days of the week. They know when products are ready and when they can sell it. Same thing with prostitutes.”
There are less than 150 investigators for the entire state. They have to cover more than 80,000 businesses with liquor licenses.
The department is so dreadfully understaffed, just two investigators cover the Coachella Valley to Beaumont into the High Desert, down through Imperial County and to the border at Calexico.
And in California, ABC investigators make 25 percent below the national average.Bishop says department morale is sagging.
“You can’t keep people that are putting their lives on the line, shooting, and putting handcuffs on people for no money. You’ve got to compensate them for the job they’re doing.”
Part of the outrage comes from the fact the agency is self-funding. Salaries aren’t paid through the general fund. They come through license fees, fees that aren’t being collected.
“We go to the ABC and they don’t have enough time to process our license,” Eric Pontius, who owns a catering company, points out. “We lose the event. We’ve lost $30,000 this year from shrinkage in ABC budget.”
In the end, Bishop says the budget crisis and furloughs are handicapping the department and offering opportunities for criminal behavior.
“If you’re not getting watched and someone wants to break the law, they’re going to be sure to do it when we’re not around.”