Police target liquor stores and restaurants in Northwest D. C. for underage drinking because of their proximity to college campuses, officers and store owners said.
Metropolitan Police Lieutenant Patrick Burke said officers in MPD’s Second District, which encompasses GW, Georgetown and American universities, are “more vigilant in enforcing underage drinking laws.”
“In the last five years the MPD has really stepped up our efforts,” he said. “It should get stronger every year.”
The Alcoholic Beverage Control board has put several Foggy Bottom bars and restaurants on alert, telling owners to be aware of underage drinking on and around GW’s campus said Hien Bui, who owns Froggy Bottom Pub on Pennsylvania Avenue.
“We don’t measure our success by the number of underage drinking arrests we make,” said Burke, who has led the underage drinking campaign in the area for the past five years. “Our success is measured by crime we prevent by restricting youth access to alcohol.”
Bar owners and police said the ABC watches stores closely, and the price for breaking the law is high.
“Whoever busts you are the people that determine what the fine is (for selling to minors). It’s to their discretion,” said Laura Bonita, a bartender at Brass Monkey on 18th Street.
Burke said the fines for serving alcohol to minors start at $300 and offenders could get up to a year in jail, depending on the offense.
Fines are the first step. After the second offense, an establishment owner can be brought to the ABC board for a hearing, Froggy Bottom Pub doorman and server Seth Wong said.
“Eventually, they can shut you down and revoke your license,” Wong said.
Burke said the possibility of having liquor licenses revoked is a more effective check on underage drinking.
“Potentially losing your license and your livelihood is the deterrence,” Burke said.
Liquor stores and restaurants around Foggy Bottom have adopted new ways to prevent underage buyers from purchasing alcohol.
“We’re pretty strict on carding nowadays because the police force has taken on a greater role with underage drinking,” Bonita said.
Tokay Liquors, in Columbia Plaza, and Froggy Bottom Pub both use identification books that contain photos of real and fake state licenses.
Many liquor stores and bars are scanning IDs to scare off unwanted underage business. Portable or stationary ID scanners, which cost $250 to $3,000, scan magnetic stripes and bar codes to determine the legitimacy of a license or other identification.
Students said scanners deter underage drinkers.
“Most people just walk away if they see a scanner because they know their ID won’t hold up,” junior Lisa Derouard said.
Tokay Liquors owner Insook Kwak said she returned her ID scanner because she said fewer underage students have been trying to purchase alcohol and she did not need it.
Still, undercover police officers visit the store daily.
“They put police undercover at the beginning of the year to set the ground rules,” Riverside Liquors owner Brian Fischer said. “This year, as opposed to other years, we’re going to have undercover cops as clerks in the store.”
Some workers feel college areas are unfairly targeted for underage drinking.
“I don’t feel as if college students should be singled out,” Bonita said. “College students in the city have a disadvantage because of all of the police patrolling, It should be regulated city-wide because I’m sure it’s not just college students that are drinking underage.”
Burke said his goal is stricter city-wide control of underage drinking.
“My goal is to get all 3,600 officers to enforce these laws,” Burke said.