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The Missoula Police Department's ongoing Alcohol Compliance Check program has netted 11 Missoula businesses so far this year, and continues to target retailers who sell alcohol to customers under the age of 21.

In the last four operations, which are conducted at random, minor adults assisted police officers as they baited clerks at 59 local alcohol retailers, including bars, convenience stores and casinos. Clerks or bartenders at 48 businesses asked for identification and refused the sale, while 11 businesses either didn't ask for ID or sold the alcohol anyway.

The clerks who sold alcohol were immediately cited for unlawful transactions with minors and appeared in Municipal Court on the misdemeanor offenses. Those citations are forwarded to the state Department of Revenue, which controls liquor licenses in Montana, according to Lt. Scott Brodie of the Missoula Police Department.

Employees cited for serving alcohol to minors can expect a $250 fine for a first offense, and a $1,000 fine for a second offense. A third sale to a minor can result in a $1,500 fine, and a fourth offense can result in the revocation of a business's liquor license.

Brodie said the compliance checks are a key prevention strategy, and added that reducing the availability of alcohol in commercial outlets and limiting its social availability at parties are critical to reducing underage binge drinking in the community.

The compliance checks are part of the Missoula Police Department's efforts to crack down on underage drinking, Brodie said, and are made possible by an Enforcing Underage Drinking Law grant.

"As recent events in Missoula have illustrated, underage drinking continues to be of great concern to the local community," he said. "The community's awareness of underage drinking has gone up considerably, but we want to continue to send a message and set the tone."

Brodie said some of the businesses that failed compliance checks in January were then re-checked during the next rounds and passed.

Every Missoula business that sells alcohol can expect to be checked at some point this year, Brodie said, and businesses that fail will be checked continually until they pass or their liquor license is suspended or revoked.

In February, 16 businesses were checked with just one failure, while in March 12 businesses were checked with five failures, Brodie said.

Brodie said the department recently received a grant from the state DUI Task Force to launch a "Cops in Shops" program, which places plainclothes officers in convenience stores to help clerks detect fake IDs and "shoulder taps," where minors enlist an of-age buyer to purchase alcohol.

"These grants help us put officers on streets above and beyond our normal abilities," Brodie said. "Underage drinking is all over the place in our community, so I can't imagine the money drying up any time soon."

Reporter Tristan Scott can be reached at 523-5264 or at tscott@missoulian.com.

 

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