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Police boost compliance checks

OPD uses local 'underagers' to monitor illegal alcohol sales

By Katie Wedell, Special Projects Editor
On September 25, 2006

  • The Oxford Police Department has conducted more than 60 compliance checks this academic year, up from less than 20 last year. Michael Pickering

Oxford's alcohol-providing establishments should be aware that the 18-year-old trying to buy a case of beer may be doing more than just looking to party.

The Oxford Police Department (OPD) is testing more frequently than in years past to find out whether businesses are selling alcohol to underage individuals, through the use of "underagers," or underage individuals, to test liquor license holders during alcohol compliance checks.

And due to increased availability of personnel, OPD has stepped up the frequency of these checks, performing at least 60 at liquor establishments in Oxford so far this semester. Last year they performed less than 20 the entire year.

In recent checks from Sept. 8 to 9, police checked 10 different establishments the first night, with Johnny's Campus Deli as the only failure. OPD then went back and checked nine of same establishments the next evening plus three additional locations with no failures.

Sgt. John Buchholz of OPD said checks are performed at random but that officers may focus on a place where they have had problems or failed checks in the past.

"We're not as big so it doesn't happen to us as often," said Andrew Reber, an employee at the U Shop.

But he did mention that he was only aware of U Shop being checked once all of last year and that there have been frequent checks so far this semester.

Buchholz explained that compliance checks are performed to see whether or not establishments are carding those attempting to buy alcohol.

"It's designed to make sure they know how to check IDs," Buchholz said.

Typically OPD will send in a pair of underage people and have them attempt to buy alcohol using their own IDs and money provided by the police.

Buchholz said that they are not allowed to lie or use a fake ID and must show identification when asked.

"A lot of it is designed to test the bars or carry-outs in the normal circumstances that they would be tested under," Buchholz said.

He said that if the underager knows the clerk, the check would be called off because that relationship would taint the test. Also, the subject is allowed to lie if they are asked if they are working with the police.

If the subject is successful in obtaining alcohol, they pass it off to a police officer or a 21-year-old partner outside and the establishment is notified that they have failed the check.

"When we confront the people with a violation the underagers are long gone," Buchholz said.

Any establishment that fails a check is issued a citation by liquor control and the clerk is personally cited for selling alcohol to a minor.

Buchholz said punishments for a liquor permit holder could range from a first offense of a small fine to permanent removal of that establishment's liquor license for repeated offenses.

Establishments are notified at a later date if they pass a check.

"After it happens they send you a letter saying that on this date between these times you were checked and saying that you passed," Reber said.

He also said that knowing weekend checks are going to happen doesn't change the way the U Shop operates because they train employees to always check IDs regardless of rumors of compliance checks.

Buchholz said OPD does not do checks every week, but they will be doing a round of checks the upcoming weekend of Sept. 29-Oct. 1.

Private property is also subject to random checks.

Although an off-campus party isn't a legal liquor provider, police can test individuals the same way as bars and carry-out establishments.

Buchholz said OPD will send underage test subjects into any party.

"(We will send underagers into a party) that is clearly open to the public where anyone can walk in or out," Buchholz said.

He said at these types of parties, no one is usually monitoring the alcohol or checking to make sure that those drinking are of legal age.

To test this, subjects are sent in and attempt to get the OK from a resident to take alcohol. In these situations, as well as the bar compliance checks, the subject is not allowed to actually consume alcohol. They simply have to prove that they would have been allowed to.

If they are directed to a keg or refrigerator containing alcohol without anyone checking their age, then the police have probable cause to come back and cite the residents with providing alcohol to minors.

"If you are allowing people onto your property, you are responsible for any drinking that goes on there," Buchholz said. "A snow fence and a sign do not relieve (residents) of any responsibility."

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