Despite the budget cuts that have forced significant restructuring of the Division of Liquor Control, law enforcement officials say they are finding the resources to continue their fight against underage drinking.
“They (the division) can’t put as many people down here,” said Sgt. Danny Grant of the Columbia Police Department. “So we have to step up and do some more enforcement ourselves.”
Sixty percent of the liquor control offices and 30 percent of the liquor control personnel were laid off at the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, said Special Agent Bill Alton. Of the 12,000 locations in Missouri licensed to sell alcohol, approximately 400 are located in Boone Country and Alton said the majority are in Columbia.
“It is tough to manage that job,” Alton said. “We are severely understaffed. The Columbia Police Department has done an excellent job.”
Thursday evening Grant and the Missouri Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control teamed up to pay surprise visits to local bars and convenience stores. According to the departments, this was special-enforcement activity concentrated on liquor violations and related offenses. After a night lasting until 4:30 a.m., 22 people were arrested on suspicion of 30 various violations.
One group of liquor control agents posing as clerks was set up at the Petromart on 500 N. College Ave. where four arrests were made.
“We planned on splitting up, but we went to the Music Cafe first, and we needed more help,” Grant said, “so everybody ended up there.”
Of the seven people arrested at the Music Cafe, five were arrested on suspicion of being minors in possession of alcohol, one on suspicion of supplying alcohol to minors and one on suspicion of allowing minors to consume intoxicants. When contacted, the Music Cafe had no comment.
At TP’s Bar & Grill, six of the suspects arrested on suspicion of being minors in possession of alcohol were also arrested on suspicion of possession of false identification.
“We could only arrest six people, but an easy guess is that over half of the people there were violating Missouri Liquor Law and city ordinances,” Grant said.
Manager of TP’s Bar & Grill, Nathan Drury, said that estimation was “flatly inaccurate. The reason it was mixed (with both of age and underage customers) is that it was a private party. We carded at the door and have bouncers walking around.”
Arrests were also made at Tonic and McNally’s. Neither business made a comment.
Grant said they have an ongoing enforcement relationship with all the bars in the area and conduct random inspections often, searching for liquor violations.
“We have a great relationship between the Columbia Police and Fire departments, local bars and local interest groups on trying to control underage drinking.”
Federally funded server-training programs are offered to all licensed sellers of alcohol, although the personnel cuts have made the availability of those classes more difficult. Mass mailings advertising these classes are sent to all locations licensed to sell alcohol and tobacco, including bars, convenience stores and grocery stores.
“With our agency being diminished somewhat,” Alton said. “The popping up of unlicensed premises has become a growing problem, making it an unlevel playing field for the law-abiding licensees.”