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Can Underage Alcohol Compliance Checks Reduce Illegal Alcohol Sales?

Underage alcohol consumption has become such a problem in the last couple decades that it is now a public health issue, and one that Measure CP can help local law enforcement agencies monitor.

A 2014 study, “Current Use of Underage Alcohol Compliance Checks by Enforcement Agencies in the U.S.” found that age compliance checks at liquor stores and convenience stores actually did curb illegal alcohol sales.

Alcohol compliance check sign from Utah. It says "No one under the age of 21 is permitted to enter this store unless accompanied by a parent or spouse of legal age."

Liquor store sign in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Dr. Daren Erickson and other researchers from the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health at the University of Minnesota conducted a national survey in 2010-2011 to measure how many law enforcement agencies were conducting underage alcohol compliance checks, and how many used optimal methods “including checking all establishments in the jurisdiction, conducting checks at least 3–4 times per year, conducting follow-up checks within 3 months, and penalizing the licensee (not only the server/clerk) for failing a compliance check.” They also wanted to determine some of the characteristics of agencies that performed these checks.

The group received responses from 1,082 local law enforcement agencies, and found the following:

  • 26% of them had at least one full-time agent assigned to work specifically on alcohol-related issues.
  • 7% of them had an alcohol-related division.
  • 94% of them indicated that underage drinking was “somewhat or very common” in their jurisdiction.
  • Only 35% of local law enforcement agencies reported conducting compliance checks.
  • Of those agencies performing checks, 55% reported checking all alcohol establishments, but 28% reported checking randomly selected establishments.
  • One third of agencies conducted checks annually, one fourth checked twice per year, and one fourth checked 3 – 4 times per year.
  • Finally, 76% did follow-up checks when an establishment failed an earlier compliance check.

They also measured some of the state-by-state comparisons and found:

  • In 47% of the states, both the state and local law enforcement agencies were responsible for enforcing alcohol retail laws.
  • In 39%, the state agencies alone had primary responsibility for alcohol retail enforcement.
  • 18% of the agencies (9 total) indicated that illegal alcohol sales were very common in their state.
  • 76% of the agencies with the authority to conduct alcohol compliance checks did so.
  • 24% conducted compliance checks almost yearly, and 21% conducted them 3 – 4 times per year.
  • Of the agencies that conducted compliance checks, 94% of them conducted follow-up checks of any kind.

Of course, things may have changed in the seven or so years since the surveys were first done. Did the numbers go up or down? Are there more alcohol compliance checks or fewer? What about the number of local law enforcement agencies that have, or don’t have, a full-time person dedicated to alcohol-related issues.

This is one area where Measure CP can help local law enforcement agencies. We have a vast network of mystery shoppers who can help with alcohol age compliance checks (as well as tobacco compliance checks), whether departments want to hire us to recruit shoppers or even work with us to coordinate a compliance check campaign.

We can coordinate with shoppers throughout a city or even a state and reach our shoppers via a mobile app, so information can come in a standardized format and in real time.

This can help reduce your workload, letting you focus more time on actual enforcement, while we handle the administrative aspect of the work, including paying shoppers, handling their taxes, and other details normally handled by the law enforcement personnel.

If you would like to learn more, please contact us, and one of our alcohol compliance check specialists can help you further.

Photo credit: Cory Doctorow (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

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