If you own or operate a business that serves alcohol, you probably know the basic do’s and don’ts of selling and serving alcohol to patrons. You probably also know the risks and penalties for non-compliance. But did you know that law enforcement agencies in your city, county, and state are on the lookout as well?
Agencies in your jurisdiction have mandates, programs, and operations monitoring your business, and they could be in your establishment at any time. “Stings” (undercover operations) have proven effective for law enforcement across the country, and probably won’t end any time soon.
In each state, regarding alcohol and tobacco safety, statutes differ regarding which agencies have the authority to do these undercover compliance checks (state-level, local-level, or joint state and local) For food inspections, these are handled by your local health departments - however they will also show up unannounced. The policies, manpower, tactics, and frequency all differ widely between jurisdictions. Below are some randomly chosen examples of agencies that have made an impact on businesses in their area by utilizing undercover tactics.
- Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) - The PSP holds authority under ACT 141, to allow Liquor Enforcement Officers to work in conjunction with underage buyer volunteers in a strictly monitored program. If and when an underage buyer is served illegally, the PSP officer is notified and administrative action is taken.
- Missouri DPS Alcohol & Tobacco Control (ATC) - Under statute Section 311.722, RSMo and the corresponding legislation 11 CSR 70-2.280, Missouri sets forth mandatory guidelines for any local law enforcement agency to follow when using minors to conduct an undercover sting of an establishment. The ATC will cite licensees with the infraction, and issue a summons to the employee who made the sale.
- Springfield, Massachusetts Police Department - Springfield PD uses undercover police cadets to enter establishments and order drinks without offering to show ID. The establishment is, of course, responsible for asking to see ID BEFORE serving. If they don’t, the license commission takes appropriate action, up to and including license revocation.
- The Illinois Liquor Control Commission (ILCC) - This state agency has control over the sale of alcohol in Illinois, and works with local law enforcement agencies to monitor underage drinking by using various undercover tactics.
Bottom Line...What can you do about it?
Undercover compliance checks by enforcement agencies vary widely in tactics and policies, from using civilian volunteers, to police cadets, to young officers. Mystery Shopper programs are also becoming more popular, in which civilian community agencies and even business owners themselves are self-policing the sale of alcohol in their communities’ establishments.
To mitigate your risk, it’s critically important for your business to do the following:
- Create a comprehensive training and compliance plan for all employees
- Develop a Compliance Checklist to review with employees regularly
- Get familiar with who your enforcement agency is, and how they operate in your area
- Partner with your state’s regulatory agency - they are your ally!
Click here to download our eBook “Challenges & Opportunities: Regulatory Compliance Training in the Food & Beverage Industry” to deepen your knowledge about the array of risks, challenges, and consequences - and let us help you with training, tools, and an action plan to mitigate any danger to your business!