Safety no just matter of convenience

By Ned Cantwell

Had I started out the year with a list of possible subjects that might plunge me into the churning waters of column controversy, convenience stores would not have been on it.

Boy, was I wrong. A recent column applauding safety regulations adopted by the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board drew ponderous letters to the editor that said, roughly translated, “Cantwell is an idiot.”

While there may be empirical evidence to support that position, I continue to cheer the state agency’s imposition of the new rules. They stipulate convenience stores open between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. either have two workers on duty, one clerk and a security guard or to limit public access to store clerks through bulletproof glass or other safety measures. Good stuff.

That’s what I think. Here’s what my critics think.
John Lattauzio, CEO of J & J Mini Markets, Alamogordo, decided my column was an indictment of convenience stores themselves. Not so, John. I find convenience stores most convenient. For 30 years, I have done my share to make the Allsup family rich.

What Lattauzio calls “my attack on our industry” was, rather, support for the army of low-paid clerks without whom there would be no industry.

He also challenges my assertion that most of the 800 convenience stores in New Mexico are run by chains. Wrong, says Lattauzio. He claims more than 50 percent of the nation’s stores are run by small operators. If that be the case, I stand corrected. This begs the question, though: If the store is run by mom and pop, does that justify subjecting a clerk to danger?

Therein lies the crux of the matter. Adopting the new rules, the state cited a five-year study of violent acts against convenience-store clerks working late at night. Based on police reports in Albuquerque, Farmington, Hobbs, Las Cruces, Santa Fe and Taos, it found 16 reported murders, 24 rapes, 37 kidnapping, 1,918 assaults, and seven drive-by shootings.

In his letter, Ruben Baca, head of the trade association representing convenience stores, said I accurately reported the crime statistics, but the statistics are bogus.
Baca claims the Environmental Board’s intent was “simply to damage gratuitously the reputation of the convenience store industry with imaginary statistics in order to justify its regulations.”

Interesting. So I called Environment Department press guy Jon Goldstein. He said Ruben Baca has a point. You need to look inside the numbers. For instance, of the 16 murders, “only” nine were store clerks. Some others were customers, others were unclassified, and so on.

Rather than quibble about the statistics, perhaps we should ask the convenience store industry how many murders, rapes and muggings are acceptable before stringent safety rules are put in place.

Another response that took me to the woodshed was an e-mail from David Stevens, editor of the Clovis News Journal. Among other points in his verbal beating, Stevens wondered why I think government can solve all our problems.

Let me say this. I could take each of Stevens’ arguments and pound them into the sand. I could make him look like a dunce. But am I going to do that? No, and I’ll tell you why.
Stevens is one of my editors. And despite all the empirical evidence to the contrary, I’m not THAT big an idiot.

You just might run into Ned Cantwell at Allsup’s. Or you can e-mail him at: ncantwell@charter.net