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grant from the state alcoholic beverage control agency to hire a police officer and other personnel to deal specifically with alcohol-related enforcement; they became known as the alcohol beverage action team (ABAT). ABAT set up many decoy operations with minors to buy alcohol and cigarettes, which put retail establishments on notice. The police also built a closer relationship with the ABC agency, building records against problem alcohol outlets and sending that information to the agency. Community respondents also reported that working together on these alcohol-related issues has led to more general improvements on community life and personal empowerment.

Los Angeles provides another instructive example. For 20 years, public concern has focused on the proliferation of alcohol outlets and the role they played in the city’s well-known neighborhood and social problems, especially the drug trade. The Community Coalition for Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment began in the early 1990s conducting research on the problem, initiating a community dialogue, and highlighting a history of alcohol activism in the city. These efforts were invigorated by the overnight destruction of almost a third of the alcohol outlets in the infamous south central area during the riots following the Rodney King decision. The coalition relied on grassroots community organizing, which led to the involvement of city council members, as well as networking with decision makers and other activists at the state level. Their efforts led to state legislation permitting local control of alcohol outlets. Coalition efforts also decreased the number of retail outlets operating in south central Los Angeles, improved environmental standards for outlet operation, increased awareness of alcohol policy issues at the local level, and increased empowerment and participation of neighborhood residents in the process of local governance.


The effectiveness of community activities to combat underage drinking has been a focus of national and international efforts since the early 1980s. One rigorous evaluation provides lessons about what does not work. Evaluation of a demonstration project investigating the effectiveness of a comprehensive coalition-building model in reducing alcohol and other drug problems, the Fighting Back Initiative funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found little positive effect on youth or adult substance use. However, two flaws may have doomed the project from the start. First, the coalition organizers sought to include all major community stakeholders, including those who were members of or closely aligned with commercial interests in alcohol production or sales. Controversial interventions, such as those affecting the availability of alcohol, were not even considered almost from the start in many of the coalitions. Second, the interventions used had

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