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Sheriff's Corner

This month I was asked by the Working Together Coalition to review the Sheriff’s Office involvement in alcohol compliance checks.

We are working with our ZAP partners and the Working Together Coalition to conduct checks within our three school districts. We believe that helping avoid law violations, such as selling alcohol to underage people, will help in avoiding the problems associated with underage drinking.

Underage individuals working with law enforcement may come into area businesses during the next few months to attempt to purchase alcohol. Staff selling alcohol to these underage individuals will be referred to the Cass County Attorney’s Office for criminal prosecution. Businesses where the sale to the underage buyers occurred will be referred to their liquor licensing issuer and may receive a civil penalty up to $2,000 and/or their liquor license suspended or revoked. Reports on compliance check operations became public data under Minnesota State law, meaning the identity of businesses checked and the outcomes of each check can be obtained and published by the news media.

Compliance checks are done to make sure places are not selling to underage people. We’ve had great success with our businesses when we conduct these checks. We try to get out and educate businesses about liquor violations and recognize publically those businesses and establishments that pass the compliance check.

Students and staff involved attend a training session on conducting checks properly. Compliance checks avoid tactics that can be considered “entrapment.” For example, youth who conduct the checks can request liquor but they cannot try to pressure or persuade the server or seller into making a sale. The underage buyers are instructed to refrain from attempting to look older, lying about their age, providing any type of I.D. or drinking any of the purchased alcohol. Buyers do not use any form of identification because they may be accused of attempting to “trick” the server/seller. The checks are intended to be straight forward and in no way attempting to trick the seller or server.

Compliance checks have been shown to be an effective method of limiting availability of alcohol to underage youth. Compliance checks combined with administrative penalties may encourage alcohol establishments to adopt their own policies to reduce sales to youth. The Working Together Coalition offers responsible beverage server training free of charge to establishments within Cass County. This training educates staff and servers on checking age identification, IDs, and other issues.

The Cass County Sheriff’s Office and City Police Departments are working collaboratively with the Coalition in addressing underage drinking within our communities. This philosophy is designed to fundamentally change the way law enforcement approaches underage drinking parties. Instead of treating the party as a nuisance call where officers would merely send home anyone over the age of 21 and issue citations for minor consumption to anyone under 21, now the party is treated like a crime scene. It is a gross misdemeanor offense to provide alcohol to underage kids (besides your own child in your own home). A gross misdemeanor is punishable by up to a year in jail and/or up to a $3,000 fine.

Many well-meaning parents think that it is enough to take away car keys at their teen’s parties so the teens can’t drink and drive. Parents provide the alcohol or allow alcohol to be consumed based on the false belief that it’s a rite of passage, especially at prom and graduation parties. It is illegal to serve alcohol to anyone but your own child. Cass County does have a social host ordinance and you could be charged with a gross misdemeanor for providing alcohol to a minor.

For questions or more information, email, call (218) 547-1424 or (800) 450-2677 or send via mail to Cass County Sheriff’s Office, 303 Minnesota Ave W., P.O. Box 1119, Walker, MN 56484.