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Police vigilant about alcohol sale compliance checks

CARIBOU, Maine — In 2011, police in Aroostook County recognized a significant problem affecting youth in the community.

There was an issue with area businesses selling alcohol to youth, which was revealed during a number of alcohol compliance checks that law enforcement conducted throughout The County.

Compliance checks conducted in March 2011, for instance, revealed that 23 of 43 businesses from Macwahoc to Fort Kent sold alcohol to minors. All of the businesses were summoned for violations by the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office. 

But less than two years later, in November 2012, more than 70 percent of the 40 or so businesses that were checked by the department violated the law.

To combat the problem, public health groups worked with area law enforcement to institute state-certified training to businesses and employees across The County. This helped bring the failure rate down. 

In 2015 — the last year large-scale compliance checks were recorded — 109 businesses were checked. Fifteen liquor licensees engaged in an illegal sale to a minor. That equaled out to a failure rate of 14 percent.

Although Aroostook County Sheriff Shawn Gillen said that the compliance checks are having an impact on efforts to keep alcohol out of the hands of minors, he said in a recent interview that police continue to be “vigilant.”

“When we first started doing these checks, there was quite a failure rate for a few years,” he said in a recent interview. “But the more we did them, the more success we started seeing. That showed us the value of continuing to educate business owners and their employees.”

At one point, he said, they achieved 100 percent compliance during a countywide check. Police stopped doing the checks every year.

“If you consistently do them, word gets around,” he said. “People are prepared for you.”

Laura Adams is the administrative assistant for the Caribou Police Department. Adams said that grant money typically pays for the compliance checks, or police departments in the individual towns do their own. Currently, the Caribou Police Department is managing a pool of grant money from Dirigo Safety of Auburn, which the Sheriff’s Department taps into.

“The money pays for Countywide party patrols, compliance checks and parking lot surveillance,” she said. 

Laurie Kelly, chief of the Presque Isle Police Department, said on Monday, Aug. 19, that she agrees that the problem of businesses illegally selling to minors is “not nearly as bad as it used to be.”

“Back here a decade or so ago, we had to be really vigilant about the checks,” she said. “It was a real problem. But I believe that the grants that we received and the education that we were able to provide has helped immensely.”

The last round of compliance checks were conducted at off-premises sites on June 1, Adams said. Underage customers went into 13 businesses where you could buy liquor and then take it with you. She said that four of the 13 businesses failed the check.

Gillen said that there are a number of reasons why businesses fail the compliance checks.

“Sometimes it is just the clerk doesn’t check the identification,” he said. “Other times, the clerk knows the customer and gets sort of guilt tripped into the sale, or they know the person and just want to sell the alcohol to them.”

Kelly said that business owners are much more vigilant about checking identification.

“As you probably noticed, a lot of stores have signs now saying that everyone under the age of 40 will be carded when purchasing alcohol,” she said. “So it is becoming more mainstream to check people for identification even if it is pretty obvious they are of legal age.”

Adams said that she also believes the checks are having an impact. 

“It is important that we do them,” she said.

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