CARIBOU, Maine — More than 70 percent of 40 or so businesses that were checked in the last month by the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office failed to comply with a law preventing the sale of liquor to minors.
Deputy Kris Malmborg said Friday evening he was ‘very disappointed” with the compliance checks that were conducted as part of an initiative to reduce the number of underage drinkers and the number of underage drinking and driving fatalities in The County.
“I take the results personally,” he said. “It seems that they don’t know what is at stake here.”
Malmborg said minors went into places selling liquor, such as bars, restaurants, and conveniences stores, and tried to buy some sort of alcohol with money provided by the Sheriff’s Department. Two deputies sat outside in an unmarked car.
The minors gave their correct age and identification, he said.
“There is no trickery involved,” said Michelle Plourde Chasse, project manager of Community Voices, a countywide organization working with the Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement agencies to curb substance abuse among youth.
“Some of the minors assisting with the effort are students from the University of Maine at Presque Isle in the criminal justice or a related program.”
Malmborg added that he also tells the minors to leave the establishment if they see a cashier or wait staff that they know in order to not pressure the individual to sell them alcohol.
Malmborg added that there was no cluster of establishments selling alcohol to minors. It was widespread throughout the region.
Those who sold liquor to minors ranged in age from 18 to 60, he said.
In March 2011, when the Sheriff’s Office oversaw a similar operation 23 of 43 businesses from Macwahoc to Fort Kent sold alcohol to minors and were summoned for violations.
Malmborg said Friday that he did not have the exact number, but a similar amount of establishments were checked during the week of Thanksgiving. No one has been summoned yet, because the deputy he did not want any of the violators to alert other businesses before the operation was over.
The next step, he said, will be to revisit the offending establishments and talk to the appropriate person about the program and issue the appropriate citations. Malmborg said he also will offer to train the employees about the state’s liquor laws and the dangers and punishments involved for selling alcohol to minors.
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.
Aroostook County was one of only four sites in the nation selected this year to participate in “Underage Drinking. Adult Consequences” demonstration project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Community Voices is using a $325,000 NHTSA grant to work with the Sheriff’s Office and 10 other law enforcement organizations in The County on the pilot project to get alcohol out of the hands of minors. As part of the effort, police and community partners have been stepping up underage drinking enforcement and education efforts.
Plourde Chasse, the Community Voices project manager, said Friday that they are still finishing up the part of the project focusing on compliance details.
Caribou Police Chief Mike Gahagan said Friday afternoon that he was pleased with the results of compliance checks conducted by his department.
“Out of the 15 establishments we checked, only 2 gave alcohol to minors,” he said. “That is approximately 90 percent of the businesses who passed, so we are happy with the progress.”
Gahagan had been “stunned” when fifty percent of the 12 local businesses checked in the summer of 2010 had failed the test and sold the minor alcohol. Some of that reaction was related to the fact that the department offers free responsible beverage training to businesses in the city.
Gahagan said that only one establishment cited previously for selling to minors was cited again this year. Gahagan said he did not want to reveal the names of the offending businesses and instead wanted to focus on the positive results from the recent compliance checks.
Establishment owners or operators who have questions about the state’s liquor laws or who would like training for employees can contact their local police department.