COLUMBIA — As Columbia begins a discussion on adding new police to the force, some leaders want to make sure at least one of them is devoted to enforcing alcohol laws.
In recent years, alcohol law enforcement and prevention has become a strain on the Columbia Police Department. In the past, state authorities had more strictly enforced alcohol and tobacco laws, but in the absence of state funding, that responsibility has increasingly fallen to local police.
"There is no funding statewide for this kind of enforcement," Substance Abuse Advisory Commission member Kim Dude said. "Our law enforcement are also busy doing other things, and they can’t spend adequate time on it. "
The advisory commission has asked the Columbia City Council allocate funds in the FY 2014 budget for an additional officer dedicated to alcohol enforcement and prevention.
"Currently, our police officers need additional support to continue and elevate the number of compliance checks they do," commission member Michelle Baumstark said.
According to the request, the officer would oversee implementing successful compliance checks, liquor license compliance and enforcing a new server training ordinance in the future.
At Monday's council meeting, Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser said that state enforcement of alcohol laws is almost nonexistent and the pressure to enforce the laws has fallen on the community. She said the proposal is something council should look at and consider in the future.
Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp said the request was compatible with a proposal made Monday morning by Mayor McDavid to increase property taxes to pay for 35 new police officers. If the city is able to provide more police, the council should consider the importance of enforcing liquor laws, he said.
"I’m supportive of this in general," Trapp said. "People start their drinking careers pretty early and the more you can delay that first drink, the more you will impact lifetime substance abuse behaviors.”
According to data compiled by the Youth Community Coalition, 82 percent of establishments passed compliance checks in 2012 compared to 55 percent in 2008. The number of violations decreased when there was more of an emphasis on local enforcement, Dude said.
"When we have compliance checks, they work," she said. "If we could have sufficient enforcement, then they would be even more effective."
The proposed FY 2014 budget currently allocates resources for two new officers and a sergeant, but they would not be alcohol enforcement specific.
If police do not enforce frequently, compliance sinks back down near the 50 percent range, Youth Community Coalition coordinator Ryan Worley said.
Boone County has one of the highest per capita alcohol license rates in the state of Missouri, Worley said. It requires a lot of manpower, but the only way to keep compliance high is to do checks regularly.
A new officer would aid in keeping compliance high, as the number of compliance checks has fallen recently, Worley said. A new officer would be able to devote more time to make sure liquor laws are enforced.
"There have been fewer compliance checks over the last year than there have been in years past because of insufficient resources," Dude said.
The request was brought to the attention of council before its Aug. 5 meeting in the form of a memo. MU's Wellness Resource Center and the Community Youth Coalition also submitted letters of support.
At the request of Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe, the Substance Abuse Advisory Commission will continue to provide additional information to council on what other cities similar to Columbia are doing to improve alcohol control.
"This has been an issue over several years, but it has been of increased importance now because of the server training law," Dude said. "But our enforcement is just insufficient — it’s not nonexistent."
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