An Indiana State Excise Police initiative that uses underage customers to catch retailers selling alcohol to people under
age 21 netted more than 370 violations across Indiana in only three months.
The program sends people ages 18 to
20 into restaurants, grocery stores and other alcohol retailers with no identification. The underage shoppers are not allowed
to lie if a retailer asks their age.
"I don’t think we had any idea what to expect because it was a new program,"
said Excise Police Officer Jennifer Fults said. "From an enforcement perspective, it’s been enlightening to see where
the problem areas are."
One of those caught violating the law was bartender Ben Henry, who swears the man
he served looked at least 30 when he ordered a beer at the Green Frog Inn in Fort Wayne in July.
"He was the
size of a moose with a bunch of tattoos," said Henry, who didn’t ask for identification. The customer was only 20.
He’s now more vigilant about asking for identification.
"It cost me $500. I don’t want to go through
that again. It was terrible," Henry told The Journal Gazette.
The State Excise Police, which enforces state
alcoholic beverage laws, began work in April 2007 by surveying retailers in locations where minors had easy access to alcohol,
such as grocery stores and restaurants.
The program initially just gathered statistics as it sent underage customers
into stores, bars and restaurants. It found that retailers didn’t require age identification 35 percent of the time and restaurants
44 percent of the time. The program’s underage workers never bought alcohol. They claimed they forgot money and left a store
or an accompanying officer paid.
Police began issuing citations in July. Fines go up to $1,000, and if problems
persist, a retailer’s license can be suspended.
Grant Monahan, president of the Indiana Retail Council, said the
industry group’s members including drug and grocery stores support the program.
"It can only help all retailers
to emphasize that they cannot sell alcoholic beverages to minors," he said.
John Livengood, who represents
restaurants and package liquor stores as president of the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers, said his members were
disappointed in the numbers. He said servers in restaurants appear to making assumptions about the age of their customers.
Livengood said he believes a mandatory server-training law that goes into effect in January will help bring the numbers
down. The law doesn’t include grocery, drug or convenience store clerks because the industry opposed it, he said.
"The bottom line is none of us is doing a good enough job," he said. "We’re doing everything we can do with
our members to educate and make them aware of their responsibilities. We’ve told our members these numbers are unacceptable,
and we need to bring them down."