University assists city in alcohol busts

GW has helped the city’s police and alcohol board bust at least seven liquor stores or bars for underage sales and drinking in the last two years.

The crackdowns are the result of a partnership between local colleges, D.C. police and the city’s Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration to target businesses known for selling or admitting underage patrons. In the last six months, the agency reported between 75 and 100 students to their respective universities, according to agency records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Media Credit: Nick Rice | Graphics Assistant

The University has worked with ABRA at least nine times since October 2010 to investigate establishments that allegedly sold alcohol to underage customers, according to the reports. The reports spanned two years and were dated as recently as March 2012.

ABRA has counted 93 complaints from campus police, students and university offices across D.C. through a partnership program, the agency’s records supervisor William Hager said. But the number of individual businesses could be much higher because some reports include multiple establishments.

The alcohol board and local universities formed a partnership in 2009 to share information about underage drinking hot spots and combat the rising number of alcohol-related hospitalizations and assaults on or near college campuses. The program has prompted crackdowns across the city, but Hager said the agency has not tracked the total number of underage students who have been caught.

Who’s been busted?

Riverside Liquors

Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration investigators and Metropolitan Police officers arrested three students in March for purchasing alcohol using fake identification, according to documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

The University Police Department helped coordinate ABRA’s sting operation. Sonu Singh, a Riverside Liquors clerk and the owner’s son, said the store’s employees always ask for identification.

Pan Mar Liquors

Pan Mar Liquors, located at 20th and I streets, was caught in February 2011 for selling alcohol to three underage females.

ABRA received multiple complaints that the liquor store was “catering to underage college students, mostly from George Washington University.”

All three females reported they were not asked for identification before purchasing the alcohol and that the clerk said he “did not recall” if he checked their identification, according to ABRA documents.

The owner of Pan Mar Liquors declined to comment for this story.

Rugby Cafe

ABRA investigators visited Rugby Cafe – located at 1065 Wisconsin Ave. in Georgetown – in April and May 2011.

During the April sting, investigators determined 23 patrons on site were under 21 years of age, and 12 were observed consuming alcohol. Only two of the customers said they were required to show their IDs – which were fake – while the others were permitted to enter without showing identification, according to the documents.

General manager Matt Ahern said the bar had not seen incidents involving underage patrons since then, adding that it recently hired a new security guard.

Hawk ‘N Dove

Formerly along Pennsylvania Avenue between 3rd and 4th streets in Southeast, the bar allowed two females with fake IDs and one with no identification to enter. ABRA reviewed the bar in April 2011. It closed in August 2011 under new ownership.

Sweet Spot

Formerly along 19th Street between L and M streets, the club allowed three underage female students to purchase drinks without showing proper ID. ABRA reviewed the bar in February, shortly before it shuttered.

Riverside Liquors at 21st and E streets and Pan Mar Liquors on the corner of 20th and I streets were both identified as liquor stories that were investigated for sales to minors, according to the records. The agency also conducted undercover stings at bars and clubs frequented by college students, including Hawk and Dove, Sweet Spot, Rugby Cafe and The Third Edition.

At GW, reports of underage alcohol distributors or bars that accept fake IDs stem from judicial office records and student accounts. When a student points out a business that sells alcohol to underage patrons, the University alerts ABRA to investigate further, Director of the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities Gabriel Slifka said.

ABRA also notifies GW if students are caught using fake IDs to purchase alcohol. Depending on the severity of the incident, students could face consequences in line with the Code of Student Conduct.

Slifka said it is not uncommon for students under the age of 21 to report stores where they purchased alcohol, but added that GW does not count the number of establishments it reports to ABRA.

A total of 84 students were referred to GW for fake ID use last academic year. Sixteen students have been reported to GW’s disciplinary office for using false identification to buy alcohol or enter bars from late August to mid-October of this year.

“Students do not always realize the potential severity of the consequences associated with fake IDs and their use, consequences that could impact their life well past their time in college,” Slifka said in an email. “We are looking out for our students’ best interests when we report establishments to ABRA.”

Establishments that are found guilty of serving alcohol to underage patrons must pay fines ranging anywhere from $500 to a few thousand dollars, according to the documents.

When liquor stores failed to catch fake IDs, as was the case with Riverside Liquors, which faced three violations of selling to minors, investigators said clerks could have used the city’s ID Checking Guide, even if the cards duped the store’s scanner.

But there’s no foolproof method to determine an ID’s authenticity, said Sonu Singh, a Riverside Liquors clerk and the owner’s son. Even after weeks of ABRA training classes, Singh said he only learned to catch fakes after practicing in the shop.

“It’s unfair how they practice fake ID enforcement,” Singh said, explaining that the quality of fake IDs is constantly improving. While clerks like Singh bear the respnsibility of verifying IDs, he suggested the University assume a larger role in preventing underage students from purchasing alcohol by adding students’ dates of birth to their GWorld cards.

The University has stepped up its fight against fake ID use, launching a campaign last month to inform students about the consequences of being caught with false identification.

The move came a month after the University Police Department began checking IDs of students openly carrying liquor in residence halls and announced to the Greek community it would take a more proactive approach to combat underage drinking.

Metropolitan Police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump did not return a request for comment on the partnership.

The partnership program also launched an educational component to alert college students about the dangers of underage drinking.

“The program is meant to discourage students from utilizing fake IDs, and for students to learn why they should not have fake IDs which is also something [the Center for Alcohol and Drug Education] tries to educate students about,” Slifka said.

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