The PA Beer Run

Premiering in Pennsylvania Soon! – With thousands of new outlets to choose from!

Welcome to the PA Beer Run, a new public education effort that draws attention to the dramatic increases in alcohol thefts from grocery and convenience stores occurring around the nation, and especially in those states with privatized alcohol retailers.

Gas station
Clerks are often working alone in many convenience stores.

The Pa Beer Run is brought to you by concerned citizens, law enforcement, youth advocates and members of our nation's malt beverage industry. Our partners are serious about keeping alcohol out of the hands of our young people, and reducing the criminal theft act known as the 'beer run', which happens hundreds of times a day across the United States.

Why here you ask? Because Pennsylvania is on the verge of expanding alcohol and beer sales into thousands of new retailers, from convenience stores to Costco, pharmacies, grocery stores and others. The 'beer run' is unknown here because bars and taverns, beer distributors and state stores have effective controls against the problem - from barring sales to minors and visibly intoxicated persons, to computerized ID checks and other physical restraints.

What is the Beer Run?

Beer bottles
Many convenience stores that sell beer become havens for teens and loiterers, creating noise, littering, disorderly behavior and a host of other problems for neighbors.

First garnering attention in the southwestern U.S., 'beer run' is the nickname that police have given to the crime of stealing alcohol from grocery and convenience stores. Once a rarity, ‘beer runs’ occur with surprising frequency around the country. The crime usually involves one person distracting a single sales clerk (in the case of convenience stores), or waiting in a grocery store until all the clerks are busy, and then dashing out of the store with however much beer they or a partner can carry.

In Arizona, thousands of incidents are reported each year and many clerks and other customers have been injured and even killed while trying to stop the thefts.

The Beer Run has become such widespread phenomena, the National Institute of Health has even studied the problem. Their recommended solution: Don’t privatize alcohol sales and maintain strict state controls over retailers who do! Just as Pennsylvania does now.

The National Institute of Health study on the 'beer run'

Legal Definition of Beer Run: A "beer run" is a theft where a person "goes into a store, grabs some alcohol (usually beer) and runs out of the store without paying, usually to a waiting vehicle." Cibula v. DMV, 202 Or. App 551 (2005).

Why is this happening?

Convenience and grocery stores that sell alcohol are retailers with customers of all ages, and especially young people under the legal age. Clerks, often working alone in the case of convenience stores, or too busy to notice in grocery stores, are often working through the night when conventional retailers – bars, package stores, distributors - are closed for the night.

Open 24 Hours
Late night "beer runs" are common at all-night convenience stores after bars and restaurants close.

The inability to get alcohol elsewhere, along with the ease of stealing from a sole or distracted clerk, makes these retailers 'easy targets' in the words of perpetrators. Plus store managers discourage their employees from attempting to stop the thefts for fear of injury or escalation. In fact, many chains have strict no-chase policies, with employees subject to termination for trying to stop shoplifters. Thieves know they can steal with relative ease and get away with it.

"in a liquor store the cashier's gonna be watching you and in a big supermarket it's more open. [...] it's just some open place and there's no one around, you can just steal it more easily ..."
-Comments by a 17-year old female arrested for 'beer run' in California

Coming soon to Pennsylvania!

Underage drinking rates and deaths due to alcohol have increased in states that undergo privatization.

The Beer Run is a rare crime in Pennsylvania, where well-run and regulated beer distributors and taverns help to inhibit the crime. But in those states where beer is available in grocery and convenience stores, and controls are much more lax, the crime has become an epidemic. So much so that some convenience store chains and police departments are now putting suspects' pictures on social media sites to identify them.

Prescott Valley, Oregon's attempts to catch 'beer run' suspects

Let the police handle it?

Many convenience store chains train their employees to NOT try to interfere, prevent or catch beer stealers, but rather just call police and let them handle it. As a simple theft crime, beer runs rarely elicit follow-up or much attention by investigating law enforcement agencies. On average though, each beer run call involving police costs $125 to the municipality where the crime occurred, taking precious police resources away from more serious law enforcement work. In the southwest, police agencies are racking up millions of dollars a year in costs just from beer theft.

On average, each beer run call involving police costs $125 to the municipality.

It is wrong for private retailers to derive profit and benefit from the sale of adult beverages while causing untold negative impacts upon the communities in which they are located. The costs of the so-called victimless crime of the beer run are then foisted onto the public by these greedy retailers, taking away precious public resources from more important matters.

What is being done to stop the 'beer run'?

Store policies prevent clerks from stopping or pursuing beer thieves, making it difficult for police to catch 'beer run' suspects. It's one of the easiest crimes to get away with!

Not much of substance, unfortunately. Unless a clerk or witness can get a license plate number off a fleeing vehicle, arrests are very rare in 'beer run' cases. Store policies prohibiting employees from trying to stop such thefts, or chase suspects because of liability concerns, combined with single clerks watching both the interior of a store as well as the fuel pumps outside, create the perfect circumstance for the crimes. Thieves know they won't be stopped or pursued, and with a typical 'beer run' taking just a few seconds, they know they can be miles away before police can even be notified.

'Beer runs' can happen at any time and are committed by all ages. A University of Arizona study found that over one-quarter of all beer thefts are committed by minors, and most are perpetrated after 11 p.m., when stores are staffed by few or a sole clerk.

Some stores are using Facebook to catch suspects

How can we stop it from happening here in Pennsylvania?

Limit the sale of alcoholic beverages to specialty retailers who are trained and capable of handling adult beverages. Spreading the sale of beer and liquor to non-traditional retailers like convenience and grocery stores opens the door to the crime. Just as the NIH study concluded, limit the retailers, close the door on the crime. It's that simple.