Scott City businesses fare poorly on selling alcohol to minors

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Sixty percent failed compliance checks and sold alcohol to a minor with her own ID.

When Scott City started its latest round of annual alcohol compliance checks at city businesses in November, Police chief Don Cobb didn't expect such a bad outcome.

The first time city police and state alcohol control agents sent a minor out to purchase alcohol at businesses in the city, only 40 percent passed the test.

For the three years prior, 100 percent passed.

"We don't know why it's increased," said Cobb. "All we can do is work with merchants to fix it."

The city and state subsequently have gone through four rounds of the compliance checks, with Larry's Store 24 failing twice, Rhodes Travel Center failing twice and Bob's Foodliner and Casey's failing once.

No trickery was involved -- the police used a minor who looked young and had her own ID.

Scott City isn't the only local city concerned about alcohol sales to minors at local retailers. This year Jackson implemented a compliance check program for the first time, and Cape Girardeau is taking part in an experimental program funded by a federal grant to explore and reduce teen drinking locally.

Cape Girardeau began its three-year program in October 2004, instituting compliance checks, enforcement actions and education programs designed to curb underage drinking. Before that time the police department only ran compliance checks if complaints were received.

Through the new program, called the Community Trials Initiative, Cape Girardeau is required to check 90 percent of non-bar establishments that sell alcohol. Six other cities in Missouri, none of them local, participate in the program.

In the period between October 2004 and September 2005, 53 stores were checked with 17 failing for a compliance rate of 68 percent, said Sharee Galnore, program coordinator with the Cape Girardeau Police Department.

Galnore said that, as in all communities, alcohol in the hands of minors is a high-profile problem.

While the checks may seem to create an adversarial between police and retailers, police say the key to success is cooperation with those retailers.

Cobb said he doesn't want to berate businesses for their violations, only to fix the problem.

"We'll work with them to try and help them," said Cobb. "If they have a question and want to call us at any time they can."

All of them have reasons for the violations, Cobb said, from being short-staffed to having new employees. While the retailers' motivations aren't sinister, Cobb said, they still need to be in compliance.

Jim Maurer, co-owner of Rhodes 101 Stops, said compliance is important for his business, but isn't always easy.

Like other retailers, Maurer said Rhodes 101 employees go through training and employees are instructed on the importance of checking IDs. However, that doesn't always stop a renegade employee from violating policy, he said. If they do, they're fired, he said.

But Maurer points out that sales to minors at stores are only a part of the problem.

"I think it's a point that goes unnoticed a lot that national numbers tell us that less than 20 percent of the alcohol minors get is purchased by those minors," said Maurer.

Much more common is adults purchasing the product for minors, he said.

That problem is one the program is Cape Girardeau is also trying to address. Through community education and special "saturation" and party patrols, the police try to inform residents and find those who might be buying for minors.

But police will continue to both target and work with stores. For violations, individuals can face fines or jail time, and sanctions can be imposed on stores that are repeat offenders by the state Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control.

Cobb, for one, won't stop until his city's retailers have 100 percent compliance again.

335-6611, extension 182

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