Last week two clerks were cited for selling alcohol to a minor during a sting operation conducted by the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety to conduct alcohol compliance checks. An underage decoy was used with a real identification card whose picture did not look like the individual. Several establishments throughout Rohnert Park were tested and in all but one the minor was served alcohol.
“Because we’re a college town, we take it seriously,” says Sergeant Keith Astley of the Rohnert Park Public Safety Department. “We don’t want any deaths caused by underage drinking. We’re trying to curb that. We’re trying to keep people safe because as soon as somebody gets sold alcohol things can spiral out of control quickly if they’re under 21. We’ve always been on top of it trying to do it for the education practices – educating the merchants, the bars, the liquor stores and the restaurants about what to look for. But, with doing this all these years we still had several people served. It’s kind of disheartening. But we won’t give up. We’ll continue with the program and make adjustments accordingly.”
According to the Alcoholic Beverage Sales Ordinance that passed in 2007, all businesses who sell or serve alcohol must have their employees complete a four- hour training within 60 days of employment. This training, called Responsible Beverage Service (RBS) is provided by the City of Rohnert Park and is paid for by fees paid by the establishments to the city for selling alcohol. The training is held many times each year and private trainings can also be conducted for those businesses hiring several people at once. RBS covers how to detect fake or altered IDs.
It also covers many of the alcohol possession laws.
“Anybody who has a liquor license in the city limits of Rohnert Park, their employees have to go through a four hour in-house class,” says Astley. “It teaches them how to detect underage drinkers, how to prevent them from over serving people, recognizing already drunk people coming into the establishment, how to check IDs and not serving alcohol to minors.”
Generally most businesses in Rohnert Park are very agreeable to the arrangement and send their employees to the training in a timely manner. The Public Safety Department also tries to keep on top of reminding them.
“What we find, like in any other business, is that they get busy and sometimes they lack in sending people or they need a little nudge to remind them,” says Astley. “But overall the businesses are good at trying to schedule their people in.”
Two of the clerks who sold alcohol to the decoy during the sting operation – one at the Grocery Outlet and one at Raley’s – had not yet received RBS training. In these cases officers did not issue a citation but educated them on the importance of RBS and encouraged them to attend the next training.
At Mi Farlito restaurant the server had recently completed RBS training, spotted the difference in identity on the decoy’s ID and refused service.
Unfortunately, two individuals tested – a bartender at Quincy’s and a clerk at Safeway – had both completed RBS training but still sold alcohol to the underage decoy. Officers cited both people for selling to a minor, a violation that can carry a criminal fine ranging from $250 to $1,000 to the cited individual. In this operation the focus was on clerk or bartender compliance and the business establishments were not cited.
“For the two people that were cited, that goes through the criminal court,” says Astley. “That goes through the district attorney’s office and can carry a criminal fine of up to $1,000. They might have to take some additional classes besides the one we offer. And then depending on the business they might have their punishment for selling alcohol to a minor. So they may have a suspension program or they might fire the person or do retraining for them – whatever their business practices are, for that company.”
The Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety completes as many of these sting operations per year as possible, usually using explorers or other officers’ children – sometimes from other agencies – as decoys. It is also a chance to remind businesses of the importance of getting their employees trained and telling managers to provide the support needed to encourage clerks to take that extra time to thoroughly check IDs – even if there are several people in line.
“This is one of the things that Rohnert Park’s Department of Public Safety takes seriously,” says Astley. “The city council, city manager and our department created this ordinance to help fund these classes and educate the servers. They [the clerks] are not doing it intentionally; they do it because they’re not checking the IDs well enough. We’re committed to this. We’re not going to give up. We’re going to continue down this path to educate people and train them correctly.”