Downtown police team works on curbing underage drinking in bars

Sunday, July 12, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
Alex Apter, bouncer at Harpo's Bar & Grill in Columbia, checks Margaret Salisbury's ID on Saturday. Apter must check every patron's ID before allowing entry into the bar in order to avoid serving minors.

COLUMBIA — It's a typical Thursday night in downtown Columbia. Music blares from bars, and college students line up to get in, most of them with their IDs already in hand.

Outside Campus Bar & Grill, where the drink special is a 75-cent "triple well" — a three-shot mixed drink — bouncers scrutinize IDs. At times they bend, scratch and hold the IDs at different angles to make sure the holograms are authentic. If something looks wrong, the bouncers ask for a second form of ID. 

Even after a customer makes it past a bouncer and into the bar, there are still other hurdles to be cleared. Lately, uniformed Columbia Police officers have been patrolling bars to make sure no one under 21 is drinking alcohol.

On Thursday, the arrival of the bar patrol was heralded by two mounted police heading east on Elm Street. Three uniformed officers on bicycles arrived next, parked in front of the bar and went inside. They walked around the bar and onto the decks.

One officer focused on a table of young women celebrating a birthday. He asked a young woman wearing a tiara for her ID, which, unfortunately for her celebration, didn't satisfy the officer. He asked for another form of ID, gave it a long look and escorted her from the bar. The crowd booed.

The birthday was apparently her 20th, not her 21st, a bouncer could be heard telling a bar patron.

Outside, officers asked another young woman for multiple forms of ID — none of which satisfied them. Then she was asked to touch her nose with one index finger, then the other. She apparently failed, because officers handcuffed her and put her in a squad car.

The Downtown Police Team, which formed just over a month ago, is meant to combat several downtown problems, including graffiti, panhandling and violence around bars. Now, police have extended their patrols inside bars to curb underage drinking.

Bengals Bar & Grill owner and manager Jay Rader said that he has “definitely seen an increase” in the number of patrols coming through his bar each week.

Columbia Police Sgt. Lloyd Simons said that, so far, these patrols have been very effective. Before the downtown patrols, bars had a 50-percent failure rate of serving minors. Now that number is down to 30 percent, he said.

One of the old methods for determining whether bars were serving minors was compliance checks, but many of the cases made from May 2008 to mid-April have been thrown out because they weren't conducted according to state regulations.

As a result, compliance checks have stopped, though they will resume soon, Simons said.

Simons said the “walk-throughs” are not a result of the problems with the compliance checks, but rather a part of downtown policing. He said he thinks the patrols are a good approach because they allow officers to interact with bars and patrons, prevent disturbances and show their presence in the community.  

The approach doesn't just target underage drinkers – who can be issued a summons on a charge of minor in possession – but also the bars. They can lose their liquor licenses and be prosecuted criminally for serving minors — and that sometimes takes in not just bar owners but also bartenders, Simons said.

Of the problems that bars face when it comes to underage drinking, Rader said fake IDs pose the biggest challenge. But there's some forgiveness in the process.

Simons said that most of the time if a bar owner, server or bartender is found guilty of serving a minor, he or she is not at fault if a good faith effort was made to check identification. He said if someone has a very good fake ID, it can fool bouncers, and then they're not accountable. But if the ID is an obvious fake, they can face charges.

The new patrols have drawn negative reactions from some downtown bartenders and bouncers who say patrons dislike police being in bars. But Simons said that “as long as bars are doing what they should, it’s a solution” to the problem of underage drinking.

But Rader said even patrons over 21 might not feel comfortable being elbow-to-elbow with police in the bars. “When police come around, people are skittish," he said, "whether or not they are doing something wrong.”

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Mark Foecking July 12, 2009 | 5:21 a.m.

Until we see a lot of businesses losing their liquor licenses, we'll not see much of a reduction in the problem of underage drinking.

My feeling is too many people make too much money off underage drinkers to make any more than a token attempt to stop it.


(Report Comment)
KEN GERINGER July 12, 2009 | 10:34 a.m.

Another waste of police power.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr July 12, 2009 | 11:09 a.m.

>>> Mark Foecking July 12, 2009 | 5:21 a.m.
Until we see a lot of businesses losing their liquor licenses, we'll not see much of a reduction in the problem of underage drinking. <<<

I have to agree with you on this Mark and maybe the losing of their license should be carried over to the building itself. That would also send a message to those landlords that it is just not going to be tolerated anymore.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz July 12, 2009 | 12:47 p.m.

Hmm, another case of Chuck Dudley agitating against private property rights...

(Report Comment)
Ryan L July 12, 2009 | 1:53 p.m.

While it is well within the officers' rights to enforce the law, the net effect of these patrols may be negative. Underage people are going to drink, there is no questioning that. The absurdly high drinking age combined with the specific type of alcohol culture in the United States assures that. So now, instead of drinking in bars, where there are checks to an extent—bartenders can cut people off, take their keys, etc.—these underage people that are turned away will be more likely to drink other places. This increases the risk for binge drinking, drunk driving, and even date rape.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr July 12, 2009 | 2:45 p.m.

No John Schultz it is a matter of one less place to enable the under age drinker.

John why don't you let them all come to your house in the county if you are so concerned.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz July 12, 2009 | 3:44 p.m.

Chuck, why should the landlord suffer for the sins of the bar? That is your position that I am disputing, not underage drinking in general.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr July 12, 2009 | 7:05 p.m.

If the landlord knows that there is under age drinking going on at his property that is licensed as a public establishment and he continually allows that occupant renting to continually break the law then IMHO that is no different than a normal landlord renting to drug dealers.

I think those types of situations need stringer enforcement and that can include never allowing a liquor license for that property for a period of say ten years if the occupant is found guilty of said violations in a court of law. If it is a bad case then the City or State could look at confiscation of said property under a A.T.F./D.E.A. Seizure clause.

This sends the message to the landlord to better manage their properties and take full and responsible accountability for their renters.

The facts are that our judges need to start cracking down on all of this.

You may not like it John but there are alot of folks in this nation fed up with it in their cities.

Once again if you are so worried why not invite these under age drinkers to your home in the county.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz July 12, 2009 | 7:20 p.m.

Chuck, if there is underage drinking going on, the court system and police should handle it with the bar owner losing their liquor license, or the city revoking their business license, if the situation is serious enough. If the landlord feels it necessary, they can revoke the lease, but you seem to forget there are several options that can be taken before you bring down your hammer.

Another typical Chuck over-reaction to a hypothetical situation. Is there even an "A.T.F./D.E.A. Seizure clause" as you pontificate?

And what do you think I am worried about in your last statement? I don't want underage drinkers at my home, nor do I want them at bars in town (although I do think the drinking age should be lowered to 18).

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr July 13, 2009 | 4:43 a.m.

By all of your past statements John you come across as supporting underage drinking and now we see you switch your views against it.

If you knew anything about A.T.F./D.E.A. laws of seizure you would know that property can be seized if found in violation(s) of existing drug laws. Alcohol is a drug John although legal it is still like any other drug.

Radical solutions for an ongoing problem nobody seems to want to fix nor really crack down on but millions of under age lives lost yearly due to the ongoing issue.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking July 13, 2009 | 8:32 a.m.

"millions of under age lives lost yearly"

I doubt that. I'd be surprised if it were more than a few hundred yearly. Underage drinking is largely a victimless crime.


(Report Comment)
John Schultz July 13, 2009 | 9:23 a.m.

Chuck, please show me where I have supported underage drinking in the past or retract that statement. Please also show me where the ATF or DEA may sieze a property for alcohol infractions as opposed to drugs. It's possible, but you're the one making the claim and I want to see the evidence if you can produce it.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr July 13, 2009 | 11:23 a.m.

John Schultz your previous comments on this thread come across that way. That is all. Maybe you should watch how you word things.

>>> It's possible <<< It is an honest observation John and yes it is possible and IMHO our judges and our government as a whole should be cracking down more to send that message that this issue is serious enough to warrant such asctions. Just like M.A.D.D. had been trying to do for years.

I bet John you or anybody else for that matter would think alot different if it happened to your own kid(s) wouldn't it if a under age person was known to be or have been drinking at a local bar and then went out driving and somehow crashed into the car your own child might just be in.

Yes John it could happen because things happen for a reason just like you and I debating here this issue and others. It gets both sides of the fence thinking and out of their complacent comfort zone.

That is the good thing about our exchanges back and forth John. That is the power John of Freedom of Speech on news media outlets like this which is one thing the Trib totally misses the point on.

You got to start thinking with your Dip Stick there....................Johny!

(Report Comment)
John Schultz July 13, 2009 | 11:50 a.m.

OK Chuck, show my specific comments that say, or you think say, I supported or tolerated underage drinking. You can also work on those ATF/DEA seizure powers if you like.

I have two children and as they get older, we will have discussions about alcohol among other topics. If they did happen to get served while underage at a bar, I would be upset at both the bar and my child for making a poor decision.

And nice to see you still with the Sheriff Roscoe dipstick comments, nothing says "I can argue logically" like that!

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr July 13, 2009 | 3:00 p.m.

John Schultz it is the way you come across in your commenting that sets you as somebody who approves of under age drinking and your comment too of lowering the age to 18 says alot towards that view point.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz July 13, 2009 | 4:45 p.m.

What it says Chuck is that I think 18 year olds should be able to drink responsibly if they are able to vote and serve in the military. Interestingly enough, they are also not allowed to serve on juries. If you can't point to a specific statement of mine (and quote it, of course) where I encourage underage drinking, then you're lieing about my stances.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro July 14, 2009 | 12:21 a.m.

("A person’s brain does not stop developing until his or her early to mid-20s and adding alcohol to the mix is a recipe for disaster.
The brain goes through dynamic change during adolescence, and alcohol can seriously damage long- and short-term growth processes. Frontal lobe development and the refinement of pathways and connections continue into the mid-20’s. Damage from alcohol at this time can be long-term and irreversible.

Anything that interferes with how the brain operates during these developmental periods can change the course of a person's mental, emotional, cognitive, and social development—and alter his or her opportunities for success.
(1) In addition, short-term or moderate drinking can impair learning and memory far more in youth than in adults. Adolescents need only drink half as much as adults to suffer the same negative effects. (2)
Here are some quick facts about alcohol use and the developing brain....")
source and more:

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr July 14, 2009 | 5:05 a.m.

Once again:

John Schultz it is the way you come across in your commenting that sets you as somebody who approves of under age drinking and your comment too of lowering the age to 18 says alot towards that view point.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz July 14, 2009 | 9:55 a.m.

Well all I can say is that you are interpreting my comments incorrectly as I do not think it wise for those who are under 21 (with respect to the current law) to drink, nor do I condone or approve of such actions.

(Report Comment)

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