Task force targets underage alcohol sales in Thurston County

A recent compliance check in Tumwater discovered that 12 out of 30 alcohol retailers sold to underage customers.

Two more stings will take place later this summer in Olympia and Thurston County, said Jerry Noviello, program manager for Thurston County Target Zero. This task force collaborates with law enforcement agencies to reduce traffic injuries and death, which are commonly linked to alcohol consumption, he said.

“It was really eye-opening in Tumwater,” Noviello said of the May 24 compliance check. “If kids want to go to the store and get some beer, they’re probably going to find it.”

In the Tumwater sweep, police issued criminal citations to clerks who sold alcohol to undercover operatives. The non-compliance list included River’s Edge restaurant, three 7-Eleven stores, Melody Food Mart, Nickelby’s Restaurant, Pints Red Barn, Ramirez Mexican Store, Tumwater Deli Mart, Tumwater Lanes, Tumwater Shell and USA Gas.

“That seems to be an unusually high number for us,” said Detective Jennifer Kolb, a 14-year veteran at the Tumwater Police Department.

Repeat offenders can lose their liquor licenses with four or more violations within two years. Other options for violators include fines, suspensions and mitigation, according to the Washington State Liquor Control Board. All retailers including spirits retailers have a combined statewide compliance rate of 85.1 percent since June 2012, the board reports.

Kolb said patrol officers encounter the effects of underage alcohol consumption in their everyday duties, such as responding to calls involving theft, intoxicated minors and DUI.

“I have noticed that some of the businesses are taking steps necessary to try and curb theft,” Kolb said. “Obviously kids are still getting their hands on it.”

Tumwater City Councilman Ed Hildreth told The Olympian he will pursue an agenda item in response to the recent compliance check. Hildreth said he was surprised at the non-compliance rates.

“It does impact our whole community,” said Hildreth, who heads the city’s public safety committee. “Maybe the retail outlets aren’t being educated the way they should be.”

Noviello said the citations and awareness will help encourage compliance among alcohol retailers. Noviello said he noticed that many chain stores pass inspection because of automatic ID checks at cash registers.

The compliance checks also complement programs such as Target Zero’s Party Patrol, which arrested 35 people last month at a house party in Yelm where minors were served alcohol.

“We’re busting parties and stopping kids from driving home,” he said, “and getting them to make better choices.”