HOULTON, Maine — A compliance check recently conducted in Aroostook County to ensure that businesses that sell alcohol are complying with Maine’s liquor laws produced disappointing news, as nearly half of the establishments targeted were cited by police.
Deputy Kris Malmbourg of the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Department said earlier this week that 33 establishments, including restaurants and stores, around The County were checked for liquor law compliance as part of the Underage Drinking, Adult Consequences campaign. Of those, 13 were summoned for violations.
Aroostook County was selected last month as one of only four sites in the nation to participate in the underage drinking project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Community Voices, a countywide organization that works to curb substance abuse among youths, was awarded a $325,000 grant, which it is using to work with 11 law enforcement groups on a pilot project to get alcohol out of the hands of minors.
Malmbourg said the most recent compliance checks were part of the initiative and are being conducted to reduce the number of underage drinkers and the number of underage drinking and driving fatalities in The County. They also are being conducted to deter those who provide alcohol to youths.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, teens are at far greater risk of death in an alcohol-related crash than the overall population, despite the fact that they are below the minimum drinking age in every state. Thirty one percent of 15- to 20-year-old drivers who were killed in crashes nationally in 2006 had been drinking.
According to Maine’s office of substance abuse, a 2008 statewide survey reported that 48.8 percent of Maine students in grades seven through 12 had tried alcohol. Research also has shown that 40 percent of children who begin drinking before age 15 will develop alcohol abuse or dependence at some point in their lives.
Malmbourg pointed out that 142 people died in Maine from 2006 to 2010 as a result of a crash involving a 15- to 20-year-old driver with a blood alcohol content of 0.01 or above. In 2010 alone, 22 percent of 15- to 20-year-old drivers involved in traffic fatalities in Maine had a blood alcohol content of 0.01 or above.
“One careless decision by a young person can end and destroy lives,” Malmborg said. “We know we have more work to do, but if we got across to just one teen who might have otherwise chosen to drink and drive, we’ve accomplished something and hopefully changed lives. And if we’re able to reduce their access to alcohol, that’s tackling the first part of the problem.”
Along with the 13 establishments summoned for noncompliance, the additional road patrols in Aroostook resulted in youth transportation and possession of alcohol citations, as well as citations for adults furnishing a place for minors to consume and alcohol for minors to consume. Other violations not alcohol-related were dealt with as a result of the increased patrols, ranging from driving violations to drug violations, according to Malmbourg.
“Local enforcement officials and community partners came together for this campaign, and we believe it was a tremendous success,” he said. “Hopefully, the teens in our community now know we will not tolerate underage drinking, and just as importantly, the adults and organizations who provide the alcohol know they also face serious consequences.”
This is not the first time that compliance checks have revealed that not all County businesses are enforcing the state’s liquor laws. In March 2011, the Sheriff’s Department oversaw an operation that had minors attempt to buy alcohol at 43 businesses stretching from Macwahoc to Fort Kent.
Twenty-three of the establishments sold alcohol to the minors and were summoned for the violation, according to Sheriff Jim Madore.
During the summer of 2010 in Caribou, the Police Department selected 12 local businesses where alcohol is served.
Fifty percent of the businesses failed the test and sold the minor alcohol, according to Caribou Chief Mike Gahagan.
Gahagan said at the time that he was stunned by the results, especially since the department offers free responsible beverage training to businesses in the city.
Michelle Plourde Chasse, Community Voices project manager, said Friday afternoon that she also was disappointed with the results. She noted that compliance checks that were conducted in January revealed an almost 50 percent failure rate. That rate is slightly lower this time.
“I wish there was a magic button because I would push it,” she said. “We will continue to offer training twice a year to businesses in this area and we are going to continue with compliance checks.”
The project manager said she believes that it would be helpful to immediately list the names of businesses that were summoned in order to let parents and others know that they were cited. But the names have not been released in the past until the cases were settled in court, and Plourde Chasse did not have the list of businesses that were cited during this round of checks.
Penalties for the violations can result in a fine, license suspension or both. Fines for stores start at between $550 and $1,500 for a first violation, depending on the number of offenses.
The next wave of compliance checks will start this month and the enforcement campaign will continue throughout the year.