Four of 16 businesses allegedly sold alcohol to minors last week in the latest compliance operation conducted by the Blaine County Underage Drinking Compliance Task Force.
The 75 percent compliance rate in alcohol sales checks conducted on Wednesday, Dec. 14, was about 18 percent lower than the 92 percent compliance rate achieved in a Task Force operation conducted in June.
According to the Task Force, the four businesses that allegedly sold to minors were Guffy's gas and convenience store in Bellevue, the new Stinker station, formerly Albertson's Express, in Hailey, and two Ketchum businesses, Main Street Market and Veltex Market. For Veltex, owned by Fletcher Petroleum in Boise, it was the third alleged violation.
Veltex employees were also cited for underage sales in Task Force compliance checks conducted last March and in September 2010.
Last week's operation was the sixth conducted by the Task Force since its inception in spring 2010. The Task Force, composed of local law enforcement agencies and the Blaine County Community Drug Coalition, was organized to help combat underage drinking in Blaine County.
The legal drinking age is 21 in Idaho.
The 92 percent compliance rate achieved last June was the highest yet in Task Force operations. Compliance rates were 53 percent for the first operation in August 2010, 42 percent at the second in September 2010, 64 percent in the third in November 2010, and 85 percent for the fourth conducted in March.
Despite the 18 percent decline in compliance in last week's operation, Drug Coalition Executive Director Terry Basolo said the Task Force is still satisfied with the results.
"Our goal is to stay above 70 percent and we're still above that," Basolo said Monday. "It's still a pretty respectable rate of compliance. We always like to see it high, but it's still above our goal."
A typical operation involves law enforcement officers accompanied by an underage person, usually a volunteer police cadet from College of Southern Idaho. If the volunteer can successfully buy alcohol at a bar, restaurant or retail store, then police issue a misdemeanor citation to the person who made the sale.
Offending businesses are also reported to the Alcohol Beverage Control Bureau of Idaho State Police.
The Task Force has attempted to provide training to businesses and people who sell alcohol. Classes are periodically arranged by the Ketchum Police Department.
Sun Valley Assistant Police Chief Mike Crawford, who serves as Task Force leader, said local businesses were even warned about a possible pending sting operation earlier this month.
"We sent out a letter just a week prior to this check telling businesses, as a courtesy, that with the holidays there might be a lot of minors in town trying to buy alcohol," Crawford said. "Several of the people that were cited had attended training; it's just a matter of retailers reminding their employees to check identification."
Crawford said compliance might have been down because the latest operation was conducted on a weekday rather than a weekend, when the five other compliance checks were conducted.
"Depending on whether it's a weekend or not, they need to be diligent all the time, especially with the kids on break," Crawford said.
Meanwhile, the Veltex employee accused in the latest compliance check has now lost her job.
"I feel terrible that I had to let her go," said Marla Gardner, president of Fletcher Petroleum. "Did she do it intentionally? I don't think so, because she lost her job."
Gardner was apologetic for the third citation.
"It makes me feel terrible because we try our best to educate and train everybody, but we just can't be there every time," she said. "We're not in business to sell alcohol to underage people. The only thing we can do is to try to educate and hire someone myself to do our own internal stings."
Terry Smith: email@example.com