Ohio State University seemed to be part of a trend.
A bad trend.
Nationwide, for the last few years, colleges and universities have been experiencing headline-grabbing riots, student rampages fueled by alcohol consumption.
In the case of Ohio State, located in Columbus, “there was one three-week period [in 2001] when there were literal riots each and every weekend,” said Ed Duvall, Jr., deputy director of the Investigative Unit of the Ohio Department of Public Safety. “There were students pelting cars, rolling cars over, starting fires in dumpsters, then pelting the firemen who came to put out the fires.”
To combat the problem, the mayor of Columbus asked the Department of Public Safety’s Investigative Unit, which is responsible for the enforcement of the state’s liquor laws, to work with the 700 police officers, three helicopters and two SWAT teams already trying to control the situation.
“We said why don’t we start stepping up bike patrols and increase the number of beat cops at 4 o’clock in the afternoon,” said Duvall. “We were cracking down on open containers of alcohol. While that usually just results in a citation, we were bringing people to jail and they had to post bond. We made 130-some arrests before midnight that first day.”
These posters are some of the materials used by the Ohio Department of Public Safety in its award-winning “Sober Truth” program, meant to combat underage drinking.
The result? “The head of one of the SWAT teams said to me, ‘I could kiss you on the lips. I never thought this would work, but it did,'” said Duvall. “We worked together and we sent a message out.”
Working together. Increasingly, control state systems are reaching out to other groups — law enforcement, local communities, licensees, colleges and universities, the beverage alcohol industry, minors and their parents — to work together to prevent and combat the problems caused by the misuse of alcohol.
On March 26, the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association (NABCA) will host its first education summit in Washington, DC. The panel of speakers will feature people from a range of backgrounds: education, health and industry as well as regulators and public advocates.
“Over the years, I’ve become aware that there are different interest groups that come to bear on the issue of alcohol consumption, but they each work within their own missions and convictions,” said Eben Marsh, current NABCA president and the director of the Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages & Lottery Operations (BABLO). “Everyone agrees that preventing underage drinking and drunken driving are good things, but then everyone goes off and takes their own approach to the problems. It’s time to get everyone together and share some dialogue.”
Individual control state agencies are reaching out on their own as well. A number of control state systems, for example, have created “responsible vendor programs.” Licensees who meet these voluntary programs’ requirements for training their employees about the responsible sale of alcohol are certified as “responsible vendors” and are often given perks for their participation. For example, a new law in Alabama allows participants in that state’s responsible vendor program to hire 19- and 20-year-olds to be servers, something that non-certified licensees in that state cannot do. “This is a boon to them,” said Jan Byrne, educational coordinator for the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. “And the program becomes their link to the ABC board.” About one-quarter of the state’s retail licensees, on-premise and off-, currently participate.
In Oregon, where server training is already mandatory, the responsible vendor program requires participants to adhere to an even higher level of training. They must also have written policies, which employees must read and sign, about how alcohol is to be sold and how IDs are to be checked. And they must post signs about the laws regarding the sale of alcohol. In return, their liquor licenses will not be suspended the first time an employee is found to have sold alcohol to a minor. They also receive a reduced fine in the case of a violation. About 1,500 licensees currently participate.
Control state agencies have found other ways to help make being responsible easier for their licensees. The Alcoholic Beverages Division of the Department of Commerce in Iowa, for instance, is working providing online server/seller training. “It’s hard for us to be away training people and it’s expensive for retailers to send employees somewhere to be trained,” said Lynn Walding, administrator. “This training, available online or on a CD, would be much more convenient for the retailer and the employee.”
Iowa’s Alcoholic Beverages Division is also working with Brandeis University to create the Center for Responsible Retailing, a cooperative effort with retailers that would encourage the use of the best practices to prevent underage drinking.
Meanwhile, the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has just created a 25-minute video that provides training about the sale of alcohol. The packet of information that accompanies the video also contains tests to be taken before viewing, after viewing and even a follow-up test to make sure the information is being retained at some future date. “We’re hoping that this might meet the needs of the licensee better,” said Maureen Earley, education manager. “We can talk to the manager [about responsible selling], but the information still has to get to the employees, and we’re hoping this will help.”
Many control state agencies are trying to build relationships with their licensees. In September, the New Hampshire State Liquor Commission started a mandatory training program, not for employees, but for the owners and managers of newly licensed establishments. Though the commission has had voluntary training programs for employees — Total Education in Alcohol Management (TEAM) for on-premise and Grocer’s Education Training Seminar (GETS) for off-premise — since 1985, the new mandatory Management Training Seminars will focus more on establishing good alcohol-sale policies for an establishment as a whole. “We talk about the impact of selling alcohol on the community, the cost to society,” said Aidan Moore, chief of enforcement. “We’re hoping to develop buy-in [about the importance of being a responsible retailer].”
The National Alcohol Beverage Control Association sponsored an Alcohol Education Summit in March, intended to bring different advocacy groups together to jointly address a range of issues.
In Oregon, the Liquor Control Commission has made about 8,000 premise visits over the last two years and plans to do about 2,000 this year. “These are pro-active visits. They are not made because of a complaint,” said Ken Palke, spokesperson. “These are an opportunity to talk, to explain the laws.”
In Ohio, when a compliance check is done and the clerk does not sell to the underage operative, Ed Duvall, deputy director of the Investigative Unit, sends that licensee a congratulatory letter and the state’s lieutenant governor sends a certificate. “The purpose is two-fold,” said Duvall. “First, it lets them know we’re out there and it also celebrates the people –and there are a lot of them out there — who do adhere to the laws.”
Being able to work with licensees can be extremely helpful. John E. Jones, III, chairman of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, cites the instance when his board was able to work with licensees in the area of Penn State. “We saw that a disproportionate number of hospitalizations were happening on people’s twenty-first birthdays in that area,” said Jones. “When we drilled a little deeper, we saw there was a problem with people being overserved on their twenty-first birthdays, something that is not unique to Penn State but that was acute there. We interacted with the area licensees, who hadn’t been cognizant of the problem but were willing to help. These licensees really watch [for this practice] now.”
Many control state agencies are also making a point of working with state and local law enforcement. Often, the enforcement of liquor laws is not a priority for regular law enforcement. Ed Duvall, with thirty years of experience in the police department of Akron, OH, as both a homicide detective and the commander of the child-abuse unit, understands. “A police chief is inundated with so many complaints — about traffic, about noise, about juveniles — they just don’t have the time or manpower to go after underage drinkers,” he said. As part of a program started in 1999 called Community Oriented Directed Enforcement 2000 (CODE 2000), the Investigative Unit will offer its assistance to the local police. “Our 100 undercover agents can fit into any walk of life in Ohio. They have arrest powers, guns, badges, the whole nine yards,” said Duvall. “We ask the local police chief, ‘How can we help?’ They might have a troubled bar, where there’s narcotics or prostitution. Enforcing the liquor laws might help deal with that problem.”
In Ohio, only liquor enforcement agents can cite a liquor license, but other law enforcement can, when making an arrest, forward information about liquor law violations to the Investigative Unit, which can then issue the citation.
In Michigan, regular police officers can cite licensees. “But they get a little rusty about how to do it,” said Mark Smith, director of enforcement with the Michigan Liquor Control Commission. As part of a program called Spotlight, which the LCC helped to design, the LCC works with police departments to help train officers about enforcing liquor laws.
The New Hampshire Liquor Commission is also involved in the training of police officers. Its enforcement agents teach a module about the state’s liquor laws at the New Hampshire Police Academy.
Many control state systems find working with local communities to be essential. “There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution,” said Pennsylvania’s LCB chairman Jones. “Every community can give a reason why they have the problem they do, whether they are an isolated community with not enough activities for young people or they have a group of problem licensees. The people who know their communities the best are the ones best able to tell you about solutions. It would be a dreadful thing for us to drop a statewide mandate on all these communities.”
Like Pennsylvania’s LCB, the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control focuses on building coalitions with local communities. Currently, the department is working with seven communities that have received grants for programs to reduce underage drinking. “We’re trying to teach them how they can change their own communities,” said Maureen Early, education manager. “At the state level, it can be difficult, but at the local level, they know the players. They have more power than they think.”
In Oregon, the Liquor Control Commission reaches out to local communities with its Prom Letter Program. Right before “prom season,” the LCC sends letters to schools, hotels and others, reminding them to be on the lookout for underage drinking. “We’ve received a lot of cooperation with that. Schools have turned in parties that the principals and staff have heard about. A number of times, they’ve been able to stop the parties before they began,” said Palke.
The Wyoming Liquor Division has been working with a wide array of groups within that state to provide TIPS training. “We’re training everybody,” said Tom Montoya, chief of enforcement. “Restaurants, stores, hotels, yes, but also law enforcement, city and country attorneys and county clerks. In the last year, we’ve trained 1,200 people.”
The program started two years ago. “And what’s unprecedented is to see the retailers working with us. It was actually their idea. They decided, at an annual meeting of their association, to take the lead with this kind of training,” said Montoya. In the program, when a retailer sells to a minor during a compliance check the first time, they are not prosecuted but are given TIPS training. In the four counties involved with the program, “compliance rates went from horrible — up to 90% non-compliant at the beginning — to compliance rates of 95 to 97%,” reported Montoya.