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Chapel Hill police crack down on serving to minors

January sees more citations than in all of 2009


Since the beginning of the year, Chapel Hill police and the N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement Division have been cracking down on bartenders who serve alcohol to underage customers. So far this month, 11 bartenders and servers have been cited.

Kathryn Ruff didn’t look at the license closely enough.

A server at Four Corners Grille, she was charged with selling a malt beverage to a minor after an undercover alcohol law enforcement check was held at the Franklin Street bar, along with 46 others in the Chapel Hill area.

“I didn’t know they send people in,” said Ruff, a first-time offender. “Pay attention, because you never know.”

Ruff was one of the 13 servers charged with selling alcohol to minors in the Jan. 7 operation, the latest in an effort to reduce underage drinking in the area.

The Alcohol Law Enforcement Response Team has issued more citations for selling alcohol to minors this year than in all of 2009, the year the group was formed.

Last year, 39 were issued.

“We’re getting stricter on enforcement,” said Chapel Hill Alcohol Enforcement Officer Debbie Timmons.

ALERT was formed in February 2009 by the Chapel Hill Police Department and the Coalition for Alcohol and Drug Free Teenagers of Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

The team, comprised of local police officers, focuses on fighting underage drinking in Orange County.

Lt. Pat Burns, an ALERT coordinator and retired police officer, said the team uses underage customers to go into businesses and attempt to buy alcohol.

The minors use their own IDs, and an undercover officer is also present in the business to witness, he said.

“We don’t like to see it,” Burns said. “We’re not trying to get people out of business.”

Burns said bartenders often rely on the people working the door to check IDs, but they don’t always do it.

“The responsibility is ultimately on the person of sell,” he said.

And to help servers with that responsibility, Timmons and officer Samantha Williams held a meeting Thursday about the alcohol laws and what servers should look for in validating a patron’s driver’s license.

The meeting, called B.A.R.S. an acronym for Be A Responsible Server, was held at the Chapel Hill Post Office and was open to the public.

A group of about 13 observed as Timmons passed out confiscated driver’s licenses and told attendees what to look for in spotting a fake.

Williams discussed the signs of intoxication and gave the attendees different scenarios on how to refuse a sale.

She said bartenders have the right to refuse a sale to any patron as long as it’s not based on race, religion or other personal characteristics.

Ruff along with another server from Four Corners Grille, Lindsay Self, attended the meeting and both said they found it helpful, especially with Chapel Hill’s college town status.

“I’m really glad we got to see the fake ones,” Self said, who added she had a homemade ID when she was underage. “There’s some really good fakes.”

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Timmons said the team has held three other similar meetings since August for employees at several local bars including Vespa Ristorante, Goodfellows Bar and Players.

Timmons said during football season, ALERT focuses its efforts on underage tailgating due to limited manpower. That emphasis shifts to selling to minors once the season ends.

Violations are reported to the Alcohol Beverage Control Commission and servers are fined for first-time offenses.

Burns said he’s pleased with the heightened efforts to reduce underage drinking.

“It’s something we like to see because it fits what we’re trying to do,” he said. “We’re trying to send a message to businesses that they simply need to check ID.”

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