Our View: Keep alcohol from teens
October 1, 2005
Recent events should send up a red flag about underage drinking in our community.
Unfortunately, underage drinking is a battle that has been waged for generations and likely will continue in the future. We are not naÃive enough to think we can end it altogether.
But we can do a better job of limiting teens’ access to alcohol.
The death of Adele Dombrowski saddened everyone. By all accounts, Dombrowski was an active, friendly and involved teen who touched those who came in contact with her. Hers was a life cut short, and we are lesser as a community because of her death.
It is not known what caused Dombrowski’s death, although alcohol poisoning has been ruled out. What is known is that she and other teens were drinking the night she died. Later, we learned that Dombrowski got the alcohol from a friend, who although underage, was able to buy a bottle of rum from a Steamboat Springs liquor store.
This happened just two weeks after Steamboat Springs police conducted a compliance check in the city. Incredibly, nine of the 11 stores checked failed the test by selling alcohol to a minor. Last week, the Steamboat Pilot & Today conducted its own check, sending 22-year-old reporter Alexis DeLaCruz to buy beer at 13 stores. Although most stores asked DeLaCruz for identification, three didn’t ask for identification before selling her the beer.
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Such results are simply unacceptable. Our community should expect more from its alcohol vendors.
The Steamboat Springs City Council, the city’s liquor licensing authority, certainly thinks so. Alarmed by the failure rate in the most recent compliance checks, the council may use an administrative hearing system to penalize license holders who sell to minors.
To date, the city has allowed police and the court system to handle compliance check failures. Police issue criminal citations to the clerk who sells to a minor and the owner of the store. Those citations are handled through the court system.
On Oct. 18, the council will hear a presentation from City Clerk Julie Jordan about using administrative hearings. Such hearings would allow the city to hand down a variety of administrative penalties, such as probation, fines, temporary license suspensions and license revocation. Such penalties would be in addition to any criminal citations.
We think the City Council is on the right track. Perhaps liquor stores will make a better and more consistent effort at checking identification if they know their licenses are at stake.
There are other steps that can be taken. The Colorado Division of Liquor and Tobacco Enforcement has a “responsible vendor” program that requires specific training of all employees in order to qualify. The city should consider requiring all license holders to become responsible vendors.
Some communities have used undercover officers to work as clerks in liquor stores. And advances in technology have made it easier, with the right equipment, to identify fake IDs. Perhaps such programs and equipment could be used more broadly here.
As noted above, it’s not practical to presume we can wipe out underage drinking. But we can do more to keep alcohol out of our teens’ hands, starting with making sure our liquor stores are rigorously enforcing identification checks at the counter. Surely that isn’t too much to ask.