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But David Creech says it's not possible in today's world to outsmart every faker. If the job entails serving cold brews and cocktails, he says, then at some point the patron who pays up the cash and throws back that drink is not legally old enough to drink it.
Creech is in a position to know. For three years, he's owned Mixing 10, the downtown Cape Girardeau bar that features live music as well as drink specials. But Creech doesn't pretend that his record is perfect when it comes to keeping alcohol out of the hands of those younger than 21.
"Any bar owner that believes he's never served someone under 21 is fooling themselves," Creech said. "We work hard not to do that. I don't want that reputation and I don't have that reputation. But it happens. These kids are too smart."
A proposal being considered by city leaders is aimed at curbing when it does happen -- by amending Cape Girardeau's city code as it relates to alcoholic beverages. The Cape Girardeau City Council is set to vote on such an amendment at tonight's meeting that would restrict those under 21 from being in establishments that serve alcohol after 10 p.m. unless they are accompanied by a parent or a guardian.
"I believe it to be a health concern for the college students and others in town," said Councilwoman Kathy Swan. "I believe the information we're receiving about how serious it's become, and I'm in favor of us doing something about it."
Officers from the Cape Girardeau Police Department met last month to discuss enforcement efforts with those from the Department of Public Safety of Southeast Missouri State University, whose younger students are prone to underage drinking. From that meeting, a plan was devised to increase focus on alcohol-related violations committed by teens. Since that meeting, the department has conducted compliance checks, helped facilitate server training and implemented more aggressive patrols.
Four out of 35 establishments failed during a recent police compliance check, in which a teenager was sent in to attempt to buy alcohol, Fields told the city council in a recent meeting. Ben Burch, the owner of Rumors Bar and Lounge, acknowledged Sunday that he was one of those who was cited for selling booze to a minor.
"I've been in this business for 15 years and that's never happened," Burch said. "They did a compliance check and I dropped the ball."
Until that day, Rumors was an 18-and-over bar on the weekend, he said. Burch was behind the bar and, while the door man checked the minor's ID and marked his wrist with an X, Burch said he "wasn't thinking" and assumed the door man was keeping out the youngsters.
Since that day, Burch said, Rumors no longer allows anyone inside who is under 21. He did that before he learned the council was considering the ordinance.
Besides, Burch said, "Kids are crafty. It's a chess game. These IDs they're making are getting better and better. They were constantly trying to outwit us."
Other statistics suggest the problem has worsened, Fields told the council. At a drunken-driving checkpoint in September, 251 vehicles were stopped, Fields said, resulting in two driving-while-intoxicated arrests and one minor in possession charge, Fields said, as well as a host of other non-alcohol-related offenses.
The department, Fields said, performed several "walk-throughs" of local bars trying to spot those drinking illegally. Police have also unexpectedly stopped in at parties in search for offenders. On Sept. 27, police found four nuisance parties and cited seven minors for drinking, Fields said.
Statistics provided by Southeast Missouri State University suggest that drinking remains a problem for a portion of its student population. University police found 18 alcohol violations in August, up from 13 last year, including those involved fighting in public and other disruptive behavior. University police issued summonses to three students for driving while intoxicated that month, one more than last year, the records show.
In Sept. 27, 40 students were referred to the university's judicial system after police busted up an off-campus party on the 1100 block of North Sprigg. Many of the students were drinking underage.
A the council's Oct. 1 study session, university representatives, including president Ken Dobbins, asked that an ordinance be revised to restrict the underage from entering -- or staying in -- establishments that sell alcohol. The ordinance would only apply to businesses that derive at least 35 percent of their gross sales from the sale of alcohol.
One Southeast sophomore, who asked that his name not be used, said that he doubts that the new ordinance will keep many who are under 21 from in Cape Girardeau bars. He's received multiple citations for being a minor in possession. But, more often than not, he said, borrowing the ID of someone who looks like him works on bartenders.
"It's dark in there, the bartender's busy, he can never take the time to look that close," he said. "We never use fake IDs. That's a felony. It's less trouble if you get caught using someone else's ID. Go to court, pay a fine. No big deal. This law's not going to change anything for us -- it'll just make them feel better for passing it."
401 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, MO