Police use body cameras, ID scanners to limit underage drinking

Friday, April 16, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
Sgt. Chris Kelley of the Columbia Police Department talks with a patron of Generic Nightclub on March 11. Kelley is one of the downtown patrol now wearing a small video camera clipped onto his shirt front during patrol hours, which functions as another set of eyes and provides further evidence if any altercations occur.

COLUMBIA — Downtown police are using tiny body cameras and ID scanners, two recently acquired high-tech tools, to combat underage drinking and to document what happens between officers and citizens.

Though police and bouncers try to catch people using false identification, it can be difficult to catch them all. Using a recently received ID scanner, paid for by a state grant for alcohol enforcement, officers can improve their efforts.


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"We're not perfect,” downtown patrol Officer Eric Hughes said. “We’re human, and we’re going to miss a couple.”

Officers use the scanner to verify the authenticity of an ID. When they find a fake ID, most people admit to the deceit, but they get a summons anyway. The downtown officers have a strict policy of not giving out any warnings since they have proven to be ineffective, Hughes said.

The scanner is useless, however, when the person is using a real ID. This is an issue in situations where someone gives their ID to a younger sibling or similar-looking friend.

The officers are tough on IDs because drunk minors are a root of the overarching alcohol-related problems downtown, police said. But Hughes and Sgt. Chris Kelley said the main goal of the patrol is not to prosecute minors.

“Serving minors is an issue on several levels, but there are laws in place to prohibit that, and we’re enforcing those,” Hughes said. “Some people think (prosecuting minors) is our main goal, but our main goal is to make sure people are safe.”

Body cameras, which were acquired in October using funds from the department's budget, are about the size of a stick of Wrigley's gum and are worn on the officer's chest. It records the night’s incidents and arrests, allowing police to go back and review a situation.

The cameras also help officers document overcrowding, police said. If a bar appears to be exceeding its occupancy level, the downtown patrol calls the fire marshal.

“The cameras aren’t small because we’re hiding them — all the bar owners know about them,” Kelley said. "They’re small because we need to be able to carry them around with us."

Kelley said bar patrons don't even notice the cameras.

"The cameras protect citizens and officers,” Kelley said. “It’s a checks-and-balances system.”

Being able to record incidents allows police to verify the truth of a complaint brought against them. The small cameras protect citizens by accurately displaying an incident in question, Kelley said.

One such dispute involves MU student Olivia Schram, who has filed a formal complaint against the Columbia police in connection with a Feb. 25 incident that began at Campus Bar & Grill.

Schram said she and two friends were in the bar when an officer tapped her shoulder and asked for identification. According to Schram, the officer stared at the ID, then back at Schram and asked for a second form. Schram said she provided five forms of identification and a signature, but the officers made her leave the bar anyway. 

Kelley said the officers involved were not convinced her signature was legitimate. Although her ID scanned as legitimate, officers were still convinced she "pulled a fast one on them," said Kelley. But he said he could not say more because the incident is being investigated by the department's internal affairs unit.

"I think they saw an opportunity to intimidate a large group," said Jean Schram, Olivia Schram's mother. "They were making a point to the whole bar: They should be afraid."

Jean Schram wrote a letter to the department about the incident.

"She had all those IDs, and they just kept choosing not to believe her," Schram said. "I think at some point there has to be some expectation for police to believe people."

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Ray Shapiro April 16, 2010 | 12:30 a.m.

("Though police and bouncers try to catch people using false identification, it can be difficult to catch them all.")

It should be up to the server to catch under age customers.
The police should then enforce liquor licensing laws on the business.
If the bars can't run their own business properly, take their license away.
Seems to me like downtown is becoming less and less user-friendly.
Maybe the MU police should have some jurisdiction over the students in that area.

(Report Comment)
Mark Flakne April 16, 2010 | 7:09 a.m.

@Ray: Giving the State (MU Police are State Police) more jurisdiction in Downtown is the wrong move. Why not just call Homeland Security if you're that worried?

Actually, Downtown is becoming more "user-friendly" because the Police are doing their job.

I also want to say that I think these small clip cameras are a good idea. It's funny how they were used to justify the giant, ugly Prop 1 Big Brother "saftey" cameras.

(Report Comment)
Carl Kabler April 16, 2010 | 7:47 a.m.

Actually having the police wear small personal cameras might not be a bad thing (have to see how it works out.) While I was absolutley AGAINST turning downtown Columbia into an Orwellian fishbowl by just putting up Big Brother cameras RANDOMLY on every street corner and alley, this MIGHT be an acceptable alternative, because it focuses on specific? targets, not just dragging out a big one size fits all net.

I think though the personal cop cameras should ONLY be used and turned on when a 'potential' arrest or altercation is or about to take place rather than as a means to simply intrude into everyday citizens general privacy and keep some kind of records on who people are with, where they are, etc. This would allow a recorded version of events to help BOTH Police and regular citizens establish what did or didn't happen and what we want is simply the TRUTH, right?

I do have to wonder though, if the cameras might 'just stop working' (e.g. Waco etc.) if some event showed an officer acting in ways that that were either unbecoming or illegal. I also wonder about what will happen to this information caught on camera, will it now be accessable to anyone under sunshine laws? Could be a problem?

Lastly, and this is only slightly related, but yesterday outside Columbia there was a RANDOM??? 'checkpoint set up on VV highway at about 11:00 A.M. that was stopping ALL cars and making citizens produce 'their papers' etc., it appeared it was just a fishing expedition, not looking for anything specific, but just hasseling drivers to find something/anything that it might produce. THESE are the types of net casting that I and so many other citizens find objectionable, I have to wonder what LEGAL authority they are conducted with. While the Supreme Court upheld alcohol checkpoints I thought it was ruled illegal for these net type fishing operations. Doesn't this violate the 4th amend., there was nothing specifically that was being searched for nor any specific location mentioned, no probable cause, etc. isn't this exactly what the 4th amend is supposed to protect citizens from??? Was this even LEGAL???

(Report Comment)
Mark Flakne April 16, 2010 | 8:12 a.m.

I heard about the stop on VV and actually drove out there looking for some video. My advice to everyone is to use a service like or something like it. Qik will stream and catalogue video live to the internet from a smart-phone.

(Report Comment)
Carl Kabler April 16, 2010 | 10:49 a.m.

Thanks, Mark for the link,it is a shame perhaps many citizens are going to have to start becoming citizen journalists just to protect themselves, and start carrying cameras too so they can tell their 'side' of the story. One of my daughters who is 19, who has NEVER touched a single drop of alcohol or broken any other law intentionally (got a parking ticket once unknowingly), who is a 4.0 student at MACC and was on her way to class was DETAINED (illegally?) (had to wait in the car line) to be interrogated without ANY probable cause. She was running late (but not speeding) and was very perplexed how this stop was even legal.

I hear this is happening up around Moberly too, and possibly other places. What's going on here, again does ANYONE know how this coincides with the 4th amend? If cops want to put the law above the true needs of citizens then why don't they uphold CONSTITUTIONAL LAW in the same high regard and practice what the preach. Again do any lawyers here know if this is even legal? If so exactly how?

I think really what we are seeing is that as tax revenues slow, citizens are going to be facing heavier and heavier EXTORTION to make up for the difference in short falls, I don't believe for a second that the lowering of the speed limit on 63 to 65 had anything really to do with added 'safety' but rather added $$$. I have yet to see ONE accident in the area they were speed trapping people.

People who are experiencing budget problems themselves are going to be squeezed harder and harder to supply the missing revenue. My last few days of driving to work on 63 with the car after car after truck of flashing red lights made me think of a 'war zone' of sorts. Sad really, all this is going to do is create ever more bad feelings toward LEGITIMATE law enforcement and drive more people into the activist mode in order to try and protect themselves.The last thing we all need IMO is more needless and non-productive confrontation and having the tax man take from us to support other people's reckless spending and extravagance.

(Report Comment)
Mark Flakne April 16, 2010 | 1:01 p.m.

There is quite a bit of evidence out there that points to the fact that government entities are beginning to look at law enforcement as a source of revenue. Speed limits enforcement will become tighter and random checkpoints reminiscent of totalitarian states will become the norm.

I’ll bet that part of the reasoning behind the 5 mph drop in the Hwy 63 speed limit through Columbia is the possible revenue boost from speed violations. I don’t think that a 5 mph drop is going to make a significant difference in safety.

That’s not to mention the local use of federally funded technology to both gather information for Fusion Centers like MIAC and generate revenue for cities and counties. Traffic enforcement “tools” like red light cameras and speed cameras are often sold to local governments as revenue generators and are sold by the city to citizens and voters as “safety tools.” Now the city and county plan to use retina scanners and license plate scanners to extend their reach into the private lives of citizens in hopes of generating some funds.

The cooperative collusion of private business and government as a means of revenue generation for both is reminiscent of Mussolini’s Italy prior to WWII.

(Report Comment)
Thad Tinklebaum April 8, 2011 | 8:45 a.m.

An ID Scanner will catch some fake IDs but many fakes are really good these days. Looking at the scanners at, it appears its really more of a tool for bar owners to protect themselves against the police sting operations which try to get undercover minors served with valid IDs that are like 3 days underage. The states have turned the sting operations into a revenue generation effort and bars need these scanners to help their employees do the math age calculations and then record the data to prove to the police they are doing a good job.

(Report Comment)

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