The Ottumwa Courier

September 30, 2013

Alcohol stings

Courier staff writer

---- — FAIRFIELD — The good news, says the county attorney, is that most businesses covertly inspected in Jefferson County won't sell alcohol to minors.

But Saturday, a half dozen businesses holding liquor licenses in the county failed to properly check identification. Fairfield Police ran the operation, but the chief doesn't feel like these are "bad" businesses.

"Usually, it's an individual's mistake," Chief Julie Harvey told the Courier. "If you have one employee who is not on their game, and not doing their checks ..."

Police sent undercover buyers into shops to buy alcohol. A release from the county attorney lists those that "provided alcohol to the underage person" as Cedar Valley Winery, Hy-Vee Food Store, Shokai Sushi, AmericInn, Cafe Paradiso and Aranda's Restaurant.

The press release states that 20 retailers were checked, pointing out "this round of compliance checks shows a 70 percent success rate."

So does a sting ever see close to 100 percent compliance in the county?

"Typically, we do," said the chief. "There's been a disconnect the last couple of times; I think it's a matter of 'individuals' not caring, not the business. I don't think any Jefferson County business is trying to make a dime off of underage drinking ... which is why we encourage the training."

Training of business personnel in license compliance is done regionally by Southern Iowa Economic Development Association (SIEDA). One of the things workers would discover is that while the business gets hit with a substantial fine, so does the individual clerk who made the sale.

But the business does have a possible fallback position; for three years after taking the state-approved training, they're allowed to have the hefty "administrative" fee waived once by the state of Iowa. The chief called that another good reason to study the training course, which is also available online.

The sting, called an "alcohol compliance check" by law enforcement, was executed with assistance from the Indian Hills Community College Criminal Justice Program.

The local coalition against alcohol abuse has recommended different types of "compliance checks" the police have tried, including having "drinkers" ask a stranger in the parking lot of a retailer if they'll purchase alcohol for the underage person. The last time they did that, none of the people in Jefferson County were willing to violate the law.

But the last time they sent their undercover, underage assistants into stores, the success rate was only 50 percent of stores doing the appropriate checks. So the check done this past weekend, Harvey said, is a change in the right direction.

— To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark