Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Steamboat Springs A perfect alcohol compliance check last week shows how far the city and liquor license holders have come in a little more than a year.
Now, we hope the city can capitalize on its success in this area and pursue more steps to curb underage alcohol abuse. Specifically, the city continues to pursue "shoulder-tapping" checks and implement an ordinance aimed at adults who host parties where underage drinking occurs.
During alcohol compliance checks, police send teenagers into stores and restaurants to test whether the teens are able to purchase alcoholic beverages. During a compliance check last September, nine of 11 stores failed. That alarming failure rate prompted the City Council to create an administrative hearing process for businesses that fail compliance checks. Those businesses now must appear before the council, the city's liquor licensing authority. At the hearings, the council can suspend or revoke liquor licenses, penalties that are much tougher than the punishment businesses faced in the judicial system.
Last December, six of 16 stores failed compliance checks. But in May, after the first suspensions under the city's new ordinance had been issued, 12 of 13 businesses passed the compliance check. In June, five of six passed the compliance check.
Finally, last Thursday, the city conducted a compliance check at 16 businesses and all 16 passed. That puts this year's compliance rate at 33 of 35 stores, which is much higher than the 12 of 27 that passed the checks last fall.
But it would be naÃive to believe that getting liquor stores and restaurants to check IDs more aggressively is enough to curb underage drinking in our community.
Don't believe us? Consider the shoulder-tapping check police conducted last Thursday. In this test, teens ask adults outside of a liquor store to buy alcohol for them. During Thursday's test, two men - one 21, the other 41 - willingly bought alcohol for the teens. Both were arrested.
Such checks are an effective way to send the message to adults that buying alcohol for teens in Steamboat Springs won't be tolerated.
And the City Council should take a closer look at a proposed "social host" ordinance. The ordinance would give police a tool that they could use to cite adults who own the property where parties that involve underage drinking occur. The citations would require the adults to appear before a municipal judge and would likely involve a hefty fine.
City Council members were not receptive to the ordinance last week - they called it invasive, confusing and unclear. But rather than giving up on the ordinance, we would hope the council looks for ways to revise it. Certainly the ordinance's concept has merit.
How many minors get their first drinks at home? How many minors are introduced to alcohol at a party at another teen's home? How many minors successfully entice an adult to buy alcohol for them? The city - through more shoulder-tap checks and the social host ordinance - has the chance to really start to make progress on this issue.
We salute the city and alcohol vendors for the strides they have made in preventing the sale of alcohol to minors. But the council should also remember that checking IDs is just one battle in a larger war that we are a long way from winning.