Steamboat Springs Grand Futures Prevention Coalition, in cooperation with local law enforcement agencies, conducted alcohol compliance checks in Oak Creek, Steamboat Springs and Hayden in March and April.
These checks were funded through a grant from the Colorado Department of Health and Human Services' Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division. A total of 18 establishments were checked for compliance. Of these 18 businesses, eight sold alcohol to a minor. We'd like to take this opportunity to clarify some misconceptions regarding these educational checks and explain why it is necessary to complete them.
Grand Futures began conducting tobacco compliance checks in 1998. In year one, 61 percent of businesses checked were compliant and did not sell tobacco to minors. We have seen that number jump to 85 percent compliance in year four. Two years ago, our funding source, ADAD, suggested that because we had been so successful in decreasing tobacco sales to minors, we should consider introducing alcohol compliance checks into our programming. Studies have shown that enforcement of environmental policies, such as alcohol and tobacco laws restricting sales to minors, significantly reduces the likelihood that youth will use these substances. Simply stated: If youths do not have easy access to tobacco or alcohol, they will be less likely to use them.
The procedure under which we operate these checks has been reviewed and approved by the local district attorney. Following is the procedure for alcohol compliance checks. Several weeks before the scheduled checks, we send out letters to the businesses that we intend to visit. This letter explains that Grand Futures will be conducting educational compliance checks in the upcoming weeks and provides information on checking identification. We also explain how important it is to check IDs and the reasons that alcohol can be detrimental to youth.
When conducting alcohol checks, Grand Futures and the law enforcement agency we are working with recruited a minor, usually around 19 years old. A Grand Futures staff member accompanies the police officer in his vehicle. The youth may also ride in this vehicle, or use his or her own vehicle. Nevertheless, the police officer parks out of view but is located in close vicinity to the store in which the minor enters.
The youth is then asked to purchase a specific item, usually a six-pack of beer or a four-pack of wine coolers (these are items that an underage person is more likely to attempt to purchase).
The youth is provided with money from Grand Futures. We explain to the minor that it is VERY important that she does not lie if asked her age. She is also instructed to show proper identification (no fake IDs) or to leave her identification in the vehicle with the law enforcement officer and state that she does not have it with him or her.
If the alcohol is sold to the minor, she will exit the store and immediately give the alcohol to the police officer. The police officer and the Grand Futures staff member then return the alcohol to the store, ask for a refund and discuss the situation with the store clerk and manager (if present). The clerk is reminded that it is against the law to sell alcohol to minors and is provided with additional educational information regarding checking identification, etc. The clerk is issued a warning that these checks may be conducted in the future and should this happen again, a citation may be issued.
If alcohol is not sold to the minor, the police officer and staff person will return to the store and congratulate the clerk for being aware and for not selling to the minor. We ask the youth to provide us information regarding the age and sex of the clerk.
In our past compliance checks, we have found that females over the age of 30 are more likely to sell alcohol and tobacco to a minor. The youth is not breaking the law by participating in this process, as they are under the supervision of law enforcement. The youth is never allowed to keep or consume the alcohol.
As you can see, no attempt is made to entrap any business into selling to a minor. We are very disappointed when a sale is made. We enjoy thanking the clerks for not selling. The checks are not referred to as "stings" because no citations are issued.
We will work with the police to re-check businesses that fail the first time to ensure that proper follow does occur. If a business is found to not comply with the law on numerous occasions, a citation can and will be issued in the future. We feel that it is necessary to give every business ample opportunity to train staff and establish strong policies against selling to underage persons.
Again, we feel it is integral that all local establishments be proactive in training clerks to check identification cards at all times. Grand Futures encourages any business owner to contact us for more information. We would be happy to provide training, technical assistance and educational or promotional materials (We Card signs, displays, etc.) to any business that sells alcohol or tobacco in Routt County.
We ask that the community recognize the value of this program and continue to support our efforts. We hope that we can soon have 100 percent compliance of all our local businesses and that we soon see a decrease in underage drinking in our community.
Angela Kimmes is the director of Grand Futures Prevention Coalition.