Story by Sarah Fulton
A police officer storms toward a bar and students scramble to the back door. It is a sprint to hit the street and disappear into the night. This is a bar raid.
Sgt. Jason Halifax, public information officer for the Des Moines Police Department, said police officers realize that people are going to run.
“Certainly, if officers walk in the front door, it is a possibility for kids to run out the back,” Halifax said. “That is not a new tactic.”
Compliance checks can occur in several ways, Halifax said. One involves a scheduled sitting where police send in an underage person, with an officer watching and have them attempt to buy alcohol. Other checks are prompted by complaints called in to police by people in neighborhoods surrounding a bar or from another bar patron.
Many are done at the officers’ discretion, Halifax said.
“Any officer at any time can go into the bar and do a check,” Halifax said. “Some bars, if we are having more trouble with them, will get a checked more often.”
Students can also cause checks Halifax said.
“If a kid is outside the bar and he is stupid drunk and says that he was drinking inside, we will go inside and we start I.D.-ing people inside the bar,”
Halifax said that the police are more concerned with the bar than
“If they are sloppy, out-of-control drunk, they may go to jail for detoxification,” Halifax said. “If we are in the bar, the citation will go to the bar, but not the kids.”
The police try to be understanding, Halifax said.
“That is the nature of college students. I was in college once. I see the urge to want to drink,”
The punishment for underage drinking varies because “intoxication is a gray area,” Halifax said.
If a minor is charged, it is a simple misdemeanor, like underage consumption of alcohol.
The consequences for bars are more serious. General manager of the University Library Cafe Tyler Uetz said that for a first-time incident, the bar receives a $500 fine and possible two-week liquor license suspension.
Peggy’s co-owner, Bob Lafratte, also worries about consequences.
“It is very stressful,” Lafratte said. “It has to do with fines, closing the establishment and losing sales.”
Serving minors can prevent a bar from successfully renewing its license.
“If twice a month, we go into a bar, and we always find underage kids, then if that bar comes up for renewal our guy(s) go to the meeting and the (City Council) can suspend their licenses,” Halifax said.
Apart from legal consequences, Lafratte said that stings affect business.
“We do not have problems with the police. We realize they are doing their jobs,” Lafratte said. “We also realize that we do not even want police in the parking lot doing paper work because it makes patrons nervous.”
His other patrons are part of the reason that Lafratte does not want underage drinkers. He said he wants the older students and alumni to enjoy themselves.
“We want the juniors and seniors,” Lafratte said. “We do not want the trouble.”
Uetz said serving minors affects the bar’s ability to draw customers.
“I think the biggest impact is if you get a reputation for serving minors, you can drive away a good portion of business that does not want to be around immature drinkers,” Uetz said.
While Halifax said stings occur evenly during the year, Uetz said early in the year is the heaviest time for underage drinking.
“The first couple of weeks, we had some people who tried but we gave bonuses to our employees for confiscating and spotting fake I.D.s,” Uetz said. “It sent a pretty clear message that we were not going to tolerate that.”