There is such a thing as having too much fun, and when alcohol is involved, it can have fatal results, as recent events in Steamboat Springs tragically have proven.
Considering the problems alcohol abuse has created in the past few months alone -- car accidents, break-ins, alcohol poisonings and a young man's death -- it is good to see the police department cracking down on underage drinking. It's equally good to see the response the department's compliance checks got last week from a few bars and restaurants.
We strongly support the department's plan to continue spot checks for businesses serving minors or overserving alcohol in Steamboat Springs. We also hope the 90 local businesses holding liquor licenses work hard enough that police never find a reason to pull out their citation books.
Last week, the police department conducted compliance checks in which it sent 20-year-olds without identification into a half-dozen bars to see whether they would be served alcohol. Four of the bars refused to serve the underage drinkers. The managers of the two bars that were cited for serving the 20-year-olds said they take the liquor-law violations seriously and already have begun instituting new measures to prevent underage drinkers from being served in the future.
The compliance checks came partially in response to the rising number of alcohol-related problems in Steamboat Springs, but the timing was perfect for other reasons, too: Giving liquor-license holders a dramatic heads-up in late November should keep bartenders, bouncers and servers on their toes when underage visitors pour into town for College Ski Week next month.
Considering the criticism law enforcement has faced in the past year from those who say officers badger young people and use drunken-driving enforcement tactics that border on harassment, ordering the compliance checks could have been seen as a bad public-relations move that would just give detractors more ammunition. Instead of worrying about that, the department went ahead with last week's operation and makes no secret of its plans to conduct more.
"Prevention is what we want to get out," said Capt. Joel Rae, who organized the checks. "We want them to want to do the right thing. (The business owners') good spirit and concern about their customers should be the real motivator, not fear of a ticket."
And in some establishments, concern for customers is the motivator, Rae said. Along with requiring training for servers to help them spot underage drinkers and prevent overserving intoxicated customers, some bars have established their own liquor policies that servers are required to follow. We hope more restaurants and stores take similar proactive steps to help prevent alcohol from getting into the wrong hands.
The police by no means are solely responsible for preventing alcohol abuse, but neither are the people who sell alcohol. The ultimate responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of each person who chooses to pick up a drink in the first place.
Unfortunately, there always will be drinkers who don't take the responsibility they should for their behavior, and those people have been making the newspaper frequently recently for the accidents they cause and crimes they commit. In the face of that reality, it is community obligation for police to step up their enforcement of liquor laws and for bars, in turn, to do the same.