Beer policy reduces illegal sales

Eight months in, the Town of Oneida's expanded beer policy is helping prevent sales of alcohol to underage drinkers, the Schools Together Allowing No Drugs (STAND) organization says.

On Friday, March 18, Oneida Police Department Cpl. Gerry Garrett conducted compliance checks at five convenience stores within the Oneida city limits. A 17-year-old, outfitted with a transceiver allowing Cpl. Garrett to monitor the conversations between the purchaser and store clerks, was able to purchase a 12-pack of beer from one of the locations.

"I really can't believe [the clerk] sold it," Cpl. Garrett said after the incident. "The purchaser looked closer to 15 than 21.

The compliance checks are part of an ongoing campaign to eliminate retail access to alcohol by underage drinkers. An initial purchase survey was performed in August 2008 by STAND employees using young-looking 21-year-olds. The results revealed that approximately half of all Scott County retailers failed to ask for age verification for alcohol sales.

"I think one of the things we noticed right away was that there was no real consequence to the owner if one of the employees sold to minors," STAND coordinator Dale Owens said. "The clerk would get cited and that would pretty much be the end of it. What we needed was a policy change that would incentivize the owner to ensure that the employees were being responsible."

That policy change came in July 2010 when the Oneida Beer Board unanimously passed an updated policy. That changed, coupled with law enforcement led compliance checks like the one performed Friday night, has brought the failure rate of convenience stores down to under 10%.

The expanded Oneida policy closely follows the Responsible Vendor Act passed by the Tennessee General Assembly, which went into effect on July 1, 2007.

The policy adopted by the five-member Oneida Beer Board assess a fine not to exceed $2,500 if that location is not designated as a "responsible vendor." The fine assessed is limited to no more than $1,000 if the employees have been certified as responsible beverage servers by the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC). THe board's policy further stipulates that a first time offense may have the fine waived if the employees become certified as responsible beverage servers within 90 days of the illegal sale.

STAND has limited funding through a Partnership for Success grant to provide responsible vendor training at no cost to local employees. This grant funding officially ends on June 30, 2011. In order to fully implement the policy, STAND worked closely with the Oneida Police Department, providing results from current purchase surveys and tracking establishments that have trained their staff in responsible beverage server training.

"Community partners are the key to success, especially in a small community where drug and alcohol abuse is prevalent," STAND's Trent Coffey said. "Through the partnership with the Oneida Police Department, we are making a difference in the underage drinking problem. I want to personally thank Chief Darryl Laxton and his department for their continued support and always being accessible to the coalition in its efforts to make Scott County a better community."