Thursday, October 23, 2014

Time To Get Tough With Liquor Violators

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on October 17, 2014.

By Bill Gouveia


If local officials want both license holders and the public to consider the sale of alcoholic beverages to minors a really big deal, they had better start treating it as such.


Despite the growing emphasis on preventing the sale of such products to those under the legal age of 21, it continues to happen with alarming regularity throughout this area.  There is simply no excuse for it, and neither the licensing authorities nor the general public should tolerate it.


No one is disputing the difficulty bars, restaurants and liquor/package stores face in preventing increasingly sophisticated attempts by those underage to obtain alcohol.  With the ability to create realistic-looking IDs with nothing more than a laptop and printer, the job of those holding these licenses is tougher than ever.


But failure to even attempt to check and verify the age of patrons is something that must be treated harshly and severely.  For the most part, area licensing authorities have been far too lenient and forgiving when it comes to this serious issue.  That needs to stop immediately.


How many times have you read about local establishments being caught selling to minors during routine compliance checks?  These "sting" operations are hardly unusual or unexpected.  They are conducted on a regular basis, and establishment owners usually receive letters warning them they may be visited in such a manner.


The latest incidents occurred in Foxboro, where the police department sent a 19-year-old into 29 different establishments on a Thursday night.  The youth was allegedly served at nine of those businesses without an ID check, despite the avoidance of the busy weekend crowds.  If the violations are confirmed, that is an alarming percentage.


More than that, it is a slap in the face to both Foxboro police and selectmen.  It clearly and without doubt says license holders are not taking either the punishments or the problem seriously.  It is disrespectful in every way. 


This is not unique to Foxboro.  We have seen the same situations in many other communities.  But when Foxboro police conducted a similar operation last fall, three establishments were found to have served a minor.  They all agreed to accept punishments for their violations.


All three were issued letters of reprimand.  One was given a one-day suspension.  That establishment was allowed to pick the day of their punishment.


Here's hoping these businesses all managed to recover from that harsh treatment.  No doubt they learned a valuable lesson after being made to pay such a high price.  That is sarcasm, in case anyone is wondering.


To be fair, selectmen do not have complete control over handing out punishments to liquor law violators.  Their actions are subject to appeal to the ABCC (Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission) and must meet standards that state board considers fair and reasonable.


But if local officials don't start getting tough on those placing alcohol in the hands of minors, then why should the ABCC?  The punishments have to start fitting the seriousness of the act.


There is no reason why any liquor establishment found guilty of serving a minor without checking for ID should not lose their license for at least three days on a first offense.  And those days should be served at the direction of the licensing authority, not hand-picked by the violators.


Everyone understands these are trying economic times.  No one wants to hurt local businesses.  It is difficult for owners to be totally responsible for every action of every employee.  Being unable to serve or sell alcohol for three days can be an awful economic hardship.  After all, mistakes do happen.


But when your mistake is serving a minor, the result is often dead kids.  That trumps worries about keeping local businesses afloat.


The strategy of telling licensees "If you do that again, you are in big trouble" is no more effective than when parents use it.  If you want to be taken seriously, you have to act seriously.


If found guilty, there should be no sympathy for any of these nine establishments. 


Here's hoping Foxboro selectmen set a firm example for their own town and neighboring communities by treating this situation properly.  If they don't, then there is no reason to run those compliance checks again next year.


Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime area town official.  He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.
This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle op

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes I totally agree. A bide by the law or loose your license especially those who continue to violate the law.