Secret Shoppers to Enforce Alcohol Laws?

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The city of Waltham, Massachusetts is very serious about making sure that liquor license holders obey the law. So serious, in fact that they have warned them that they better get their inspections up to date and be prepared for some unusual, and somewhat sneaky, spot checks.

Liquor license holders from across the city packed into an auditorium inside a government building to listen to announcements and warnings from city officials and members of the License Commission and Police and Fire Departments.

The group was told by Wayne Brasco Sr., the License Commissioner, that all businesses would have to comply with the annual fire and building code inspection by the end of the year or their liquor licenses will be lifted.

Brasco said that after the fire at The Station, a concert club in West Warwick, Rhode Island, in 2003, Massachusetts adopted a very strict fire code. Businesses that do not have up to date fire and building inspections by December 31 will no longer have licenses to operate on January 1.

When the strict annual inspections were first implemented, some business owners thought that it was a one time thing. Brasco said that last year, 40 license holders did not have the mandatory inspections.

Brasco said. "I cannot emphasize enough that you have to have your inspections done...we swung from chandeliers last year trying to get this done."

Waltham Police Lt. Steve Champeon spoke to the crowd and told the licensees he is currently working with Waltham's Responsible Retailing Forum (RRF), a collaboration between liquor licensees, Brandeis University, Bentley College and governing agencies. The reason he is working with the forum is where a touch of sneakiness comes into play.

Through RRF, trained actors will be sent out by the police to pretend to be drunk, to gauge how well the businesses are doing with adhering to the laws. It is not legal to continue serving alcohol to someone who is already intoxicated. Police hope that by enforcing the law strictly, they will keep some drunk drivers off the road.

Champeon also said, "As the city's liquor enforcement officer, I'm here to work with you. The Waltham Police Department will be conducting liquor compliance checks some time this month."

The "secret shoppers" will be sent into bars, restaurants and liquor stores and will be told to act as if they are very obviously intoxicated. The licensees in attendance were shown a demonstration by an actor so that they could see how other actors might act during the secret compliance checks. In front of the audience, the actor stumbled across the stage and was wobbly on her feet. She spoke with slurred speech and pretended to order alcoholic beverages from bars and package stores in her act.

Champeon then told the crowd, "In the next few weeks an apparent intoxicated customer will be visiting your establishment." He says that the first round of secret shoppers will serve as an educational example.

When an establishment serving alcohol fails the first round of testing and serves an obviously intoxicated person, the liquor licensee will be required to go before the License Commission. However, no charge would be brought against the owner of the license.

Some licensees at the meeting spoke up. They argued that the problem with actors pretending to be drunk is that some bar tenders would not take the actors as being drunk, but as people with special needs or medical conditions.

Champeon said that the actors will give verbal cues to indicate intoxication during their visits this month.

The grant funded RRF says that the random visits by the actors will happen four times a year.

Champeon hopes that by cutting back on the number of establishments that will serve liquor to people who are already intoxicated, the number of drunk drivers on the road will also decrease. He says that in April of this year, three drivers were arrested for DUI. All of the allegedly drunk drivers told police that they had been drinking at establishments in Waltham.


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