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In West Linn, 46 percent of tested businesses failed to check minor IDs

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: OLCC - The Oregon Liquor Control Commission conducted a minor decoy operation in West Linn on Jan. 4. Of the 13 businesses checked, seven sold alcohol to an 18-year-old decoy.If your minor child attempts to purchase alcohol in West Linn with a valid ID would he or she get served? Chances are, yes.

A recent minor decoy operation conducted by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission in West Linn had some surprising results. Only 46 percent of the businesses passed an OLCC minor decoy operation, well below the 2012 stateside average of 81 percent.

On Jan. 4, the OLCC visited 13 businesses with a minor decoy. Of those, six denied sales to the minor decoy and seven sold alcohol to the minor. Passing businesses were West Linn Filling Station (twice), Market of Choice, Mean Street Pizza, West Linn South Liquor Store and Round Table Pizza. Those that sold alcohol to a minor were Thai Linn, BJ Willy’s on Willamette Falls Drive, San Blas Family Mexican Restaurant, Linn City Pub, Sushi Boat West Linn, Thai Lemon Restaurant and 7-Eleven.

However, the low compliance rate isn’t quite as alarming as it may seem, said Christie Scott with the OLCC.

“This is kind of a low compliance rate, but they only checked 13 businesses. It looks a lot worse than it is,” she said. If more had been checked, the compliance rate would have likely been higher. “Granted, that is seven opportunities a minor had ... to purchase alcohol, which is never good.”

The OLCC conducts about 1,800 business checks a year, though not every community gets checked every year. On Jan. 18, the OLCC checked another 13 businesses in Portland, Beaverton, Aloha and Tigard and 100 percent were in compliance.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: OLCC - OLCC inspectors often patrol the streets of downtown Portland on the watch for minors consuming alcohol.

According to the OLCC, the commission performs the minor sales checks in an effort to reduce drinking by minors, which is a serious problem throughout the state.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol use by people younger than 21 is a major public health problem.

“Alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug among youth in the United States, more than tobacco and illicit drugs, and is responsible for more than 4,300 annual deaths among underage (youths),” stated CDC on its website.

Statistics show that although it is illegal, minors ages 12 to 20 drink 11 percent of all alcohol consumed in the United States. The vast majority of that, 90 percent, is consumed in binges. According to CDC, in 2010, there were approximately 189,000 emergency rooms visits by people under age 21 for injuries and other conditions linked to alcohol.

As part of the OLCC’s mission to reduce underage drinking, inspectors randomly select businesses within cities with populations of 20,000 or more to check compliance. Using a volunteer decoy between the ages of 17 and 20, the decoy enters an establishment with his or her own valid Oregon ID. Decoys cannot disguise their age or lie during attempts to purchase alcohol.

The Oregon driver’s license for a minor carries a red border around the picture with the words “Minor Until” followed by the date of his or her 21th birthday.

Though Scott didn’t want to give away all the OLCC’s decoy operation secrets, she said the operations are different based on the type of business and its design. Decoys are supervised by commission inspectors or other law enforcement officers. If it is a convenience store with lots of windows, the adult may wait outside, watching through the windows, during the attempted transaction. Other times, the adult may accompany the minor, posing as family.

West Linn police were present during the operation in January to ensure the safety of the decoy.

“It’s to protect the juvenile in case things get out of hand. There is the potential for something to go wrong,” Sgt. Dave Kempas said.

He said a plain clothes officer accompanied the 18-year-old girl who volunteered to be a decoy in West Linn, along with an OLCC representative.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: OLCC - The Oregon driver's license for a minor carries a red border around the picture with the words Minor Until followed by the date of his or her 21st birthday.

Businesses failing to properly ID or sell alcohol to a minor during a decoy operation face fines and/or suspicion or cancellation of their liquor licenses. Also, the employee who served or sold to the minor also faces a lesser fine.

The OLCC wants to ensure retailers are carefully and thoroughly checking the IDs and make sure the photo matches the person.

“It really only takes 10 seconds to take a good look at it,” Scott said. However, she said there are some good fake IDs coming from overseas that may fool some people.

Selling alcohol to a minor is a Category 3 violation. For businesses with a service permit (e.g., restaurants), a first offense warrants the choice of a 10-day liquor suspension or a $1,650 fine. A second offense within 24 months may lead to a 30-day suspension or a $4,950 fine. A third offense is an automatic 30-day suspension, and a fourth offense will result in cancellation of the liquor license.

San Blas, BJ Willy’s and Thai Lemon were each issued a $1,650 fine for failure to verify the age of the minor decoy. Sushi Boat was issued a penalty of $3,630 for failure to verify the age of the decoy and for the employee not having a valid service permit. Charge letters have not been filed yet for Thai Linn, Linn City Pub and 7-Eleven.

After its first failed compliance, a business goes on a targeted business list, and will be checked again within a year.

“Not only is selling alcohol to a minor a bad thing ... you could be held liable in court for any of the damage that minor causes,” Scott said.

According to Scott, the good news is that the overall compliance rate in Oregon is up.

In West Linn, Kempas said reports of parties with minors drinking are not nearly as common as they used to be. He recalled a party in 1996 on Orchard Street that had more than 100 kids at it.

Having been an officer in West Linn for 25 years, Kempas said there is no teen drinking epidemic going on in the city, but he thinks there should be 100 percent compliance for those selling alcohol. To aid in that goal, the OLCC offers a free training course on how to check IDs.

“You are always seeing ... people under 21 getting into accidents, getting killed in accidents,” he said. “Businesses need to do what they are required to do.”

To minors thinking about drinking, Scott said: “Just wait until you are 21.”

If you think a business is selling to minors, call 503-872-5070 or contact the police.

Consequences of underage drinking

Youths who drink alcohol are more likely to experience:

  • School problems, such as higher absence and poor or failing grades
  • Social problems, such as fighting and lack of participation in youth activities
  • Legal problems, such as arrests for driving or physically hurting someone while drunk
  • Physical problems, such as hangovers or illnesses
  • Unwanted, unplanned, and unprotected sexual activity
  • Disruption of normal growth and sexual development
  • Physical and sexual assault
  • Higher risk for suicide and homicide
  • Alcohol-related car crashes and other unintentional injuries, such as burns, falls and drowning
  • Memory problems
  • Abuse of other drugs
  • Changes in brain development that may have lifelong effects
  • Death from alcohol poisoning
  • In general, the risk of youths experiencing these problems is greater for those who binge drink than for those who do not binge drink.

    Youths who start drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse later in life than those who begin drinking at or after age 21.

    — Information from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

    By Lori Hall
    503-636-1281, ext. 103
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