Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Alcohol sales task force stings again

Compliance up, police identify repeat offenders


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

Compliance jumped to 85 percent in the latest sting conducted by the Blaine County Alcohol Compliance Task Force to combat sales of alcohol to underage people.

In an operation conducted throughout Blaine County last Friday night, 23 businesses passed while four failed, the task force reported Monday. Three of the four businesses that failed are repeat offenders from previous task force stings.

"All the bars passed," said Hailey Police Chief Jeff Gunter. "The failures were two convenience stores and two grocery stores. But it's a definite improvement. We're very happy that businesses are complying."

Friday's sting operation was the fourth conducted by the task force since its inception in 2010. Compliance rates were 53 percent at the first operation in August 2010, 42 percent at the second in September 2010, and 64 percent in the third, conducted last November.

Only warnings were issued as penalties in the first compliance check, but in the latter three, misdemeanor citations were issued to clerks, bartenders or waiters who allegedly sold alcohol to underage undercover operatives.

The legal drinking age in Idaho is 21.

"We have certainly had some kinks and glitches along the way, but the point is hitting home and we are achieving positive results and feedback from the community," said Terry Basolo, executive director of the Blaine County Community Drug Coalition. "This motivates us to continue on with further programming and fine tune what we've already begun."

The task force is composed of the drug coalition and local law enforcement agencies.

In a sting operation, a typical task force compliance team consists of a team leader, two officers and an underage would-be drinker, usually a police cadet recruited from College of Southern Idaho.

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Once at an establishment, the cadet tries to buy alcohol. If the cadet is not carded, or if the cadet is carded and allowed to buy alcohol anyway, a police officer observing at the business issues the alcohol seller a citation.

Gunter said two teams operated in Friday's sting. A south valley team was headed by Sun Valley Assistant Police Chief Mike Crawford and a north valley team by Ketchum Police Detective Chris Burks.

The task force identified businesses that failed Friday's compliance check as Albertsons grocery story and Atkinsons' Market in Hailey and Veltex Market and Mountainview Grocery in Ketchum.

It was the third alleged failure for Albertsons, with employees being cited in both the September and November compliance checks.

Veltex Market and Mountainview Grocery allegedly failed for a second time each. A Veltex employee was cited in the September sting and a Mountainview employee in the November operation.

According to a task force news release, punishment has been somewhat lenient toward businesses and sales people charged in the sting operations, but courts and the state of Idaho are likely to get tougher now that the program is in its second year of operation.

"Businesses who failed this round will not be administered any more warnings from law enforcement, given deferred prosecution in exchange for training or shown further leniency by the Alcohol Beverage Control Division of the state," the news release states. "Citations will be prosecuted and failing businesses will be forwarded to the Liquor Board for administrative review as required by state law."

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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