July 30, 2007

Wright County cracks down on servers failing compliance checks

Now, workers who fail alcohol compliance checks will be charged

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

With a 15 percent failure rate, Wright County law enforcement is cracking down on workers who fail alcohol compliance checks.

In past years, Wright County wasn’t charging those who served minors during compliance checks. Instead, the establishment would get penalized with a civil fine.

Wright County Sergeant Eric Leander works with the county on compliance checks and says they are now taking it to the next level.

“With a 20 percent failure rate in 2006, the numbers aren’t going down,” Leander said.

Now, if a server is caught selling to a minor (under the age of 21), they will be criminally charged with a gross misdemeanor; the same level as assault. This could mean a fine of as much as $3,000 and/or up to one year jail time.

The owner of the establishment also could get up to a $2,000 fine, 60-day license suspension, or revocation, depending on the city’s ordinance.

In Wright County, the highest fine is in Otsego, set at $2,000, and the lowest is in the city of Hanover, which is set at $100, according to Leander.

Leander also explained that the people who do the compliance checks are indeed minors, never use fake or out-of-state IDs, and don’t use trickery, such as disguising themselves.

Workers for off-sale liquor are only in noncompliance after money has been exchanged to an underage person. However, on-sale liquor is different in that a server is in noncompliance if the drink is in front of the person; no money needs to be exchanged, according to Jill Hylla of Wright County Public Health.

Compliance checks are done twice a year and usually more if an establishment has failed.

The reason for the checks is to prevent alcohol from getting into the hands of minors, according to Hylla.

“It’s scary to think that if they failed the compliance check, how many other times they actually served a minor alcohol,” Hylla said.

How to stay in compliance

Wright County Public Health, in conjunction with the Wright County Sheriff’s Department, Minnesota Public Safety, and the Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division, offers an alcohol server awareness and training course.

The course, given at the Wright County Government Center in Buffalo, highlights the importance of checking identification to prevent underage drinking and now, a criminal offense.

It also gives advice for checking IDs, what to look for, and what to do in sticky situations.

“We want to work with people, we don’t want them to get into trouble,” said Hylla, who is one of the course educators.

Another alcohol training course is scheduled for September.

Some important tips to remember when serving or working in a liquor establishment:

• Look at IDs carefully. Check the date of birth and the photo to make sure the person is 21 years of age or older and that the photo corresponds with the person making the purchase. If a person is underage, the new Minnesota IDs will have “Under 21” above the photo in red (see above).

• Do not serve anyone without a form of ID, either a driver’s license, passport, or a state-issued identification card. This also includes clipped IDs without official paperwork issued within a reasonable amount of time.

• Have a guidebook with examples of out-of-state IDs for handy reference. Many fake IDs are made with other states on them. The guidebook is available either from a beer distributor or by calling (800) 227-8827.

• If there are minors in the establishment, watch them closely so that they aren’t drinking from someone else’s drink. The establishment is still liable.

• Purchase an ID scanner or age verification software. The scanner will allow visualization of the retro-flective loons and the state flower on the front of the new driver’s licenses.

• If presented a fake ID, don’t cut it up, for this is criminal damage to property. An employee does have the right to confiscate the fake ID and call law enforcement within 24 hours.

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