Police departments receive grant to prevent underage liquor sales

Managers of local liquor stores, bars and restaurants know that police conduct alcohol compliance checks, making sure they are not selling to underage patrons. Partnership for Change is helping to make those checks more regular by providing grants to Maple Grove and Osseo police departments, enabling departments to spread those checks throughout the year. 

“Spreading them out will keep all businesses on their toes,” according to officer Shane Mikkelson, Osseo Police Department. That’s because business owners knew the departments conducted their checks twice a year, so when one was completed, they knew the checks would not be conducted for approximately six months.

With a compliance check, an underage person goes into an establishment with cash and a driver’s license and attempts to make a purchase. If the clerk or server asks for identification and refuses to serve the patron, they pass the check. If they fail to ask for identification, or sell to the patron after seeing their age, they fail the check.

In Maple Grove, a failed check results in a gross misdemeanor charge for the clerk and a civil charge for the establishment. In Osseo, a failed check brings a citation for the establishment for violating a city ordinance and a $500 fine. Both cities impose increased fines and possible license suspension for repeat offenders.

“Our police departments are already doing an excellent job helping businesses keep alcohol away from underage drinkers. We want to provide resources for our police departments to reach the highest rates of compliance and keep our youth safe,” said Sheila Nesbitt, Partnership for Change coordinator at North Memorial.

Keeping youth safe is a key benefit to conducting compliance checks, according to Detective Jonathan Wetternach, the alcohol compliance coordinator for Maple Grove Police Department and liaison officer at Maple Grove Senior High. “If word gets out among underage drinkers that they can buy alcohol at a certain establishment, it spreads,” he said.

“Underage drinkers often drink in excessive quantities and that leads to lowered inhibitions and lowered decision making skills as far as getting behind the wheel,” Wetternach added.

In addition, according to Mikkelson, “Statistics are out there that prove if you can keep juveniles from drinking, then later on in life they will not drink as much and are less likely to have an alcohol problem.”

Compliance checks are one tool to keep alcohol away from underage drinkers. Mikkelson recalls a few years back when the city had several violations during the same year. His department responded by offering training for employees of any city business with a liquor license. “It’s very rare we have a failure. We don’t want any failures. We want them to pass with flying colors.”

The provider of the grant, Partnership for Change, is a coalition serving northwest Hennepin County. It is led by North Memorial Trauma Services and is funded by a Strategic Prevention Framework State Incentive Grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division.

-Compiled by Aaron Brom