Police set up underage decoys to test city businesses

About 10 to 20 percent of businesses fail an alcohol compliance check.

by Nick Sudheimer

Two plainclothes police officers stood and watched as a young woman walked up to the counter at Chipotle Mexican Grill on Washington Avenue, presented her ID and bought a Corona last summer.

But the womanâÄôs ID identified her as a 20-year-old, and the cops knew it. The officers issued the restaurant a $1,000 fine for selling alcohol to minors âÄî the second instance Minneapolis police had caught the restaurant selling alcohol to underage patrons in two months.

Last month, Chipotle signed an agreement with the city to arrange alcohol compliance training for restaurant employees.

The young woman was working with the officers as part of the Youth Alcohol Compliance check, which monitors underage alcohol sales at businesses in Minneapolis.

Launched 15 years ago, the program runs the same routine at about 10 of the cityâÄôs roughly 650 alcohol-licensed establishments each week.

Lt. Christopher Hildreth, of the MPDâÄôs License Investigation Division, said typically about 10 to 20 percent of businesses fail these compliance checks.

If a business fails, itâÄôs rechecked every 30 to 60 days until they pass two consecutive checks.

The tests involve underage decoys attempting to buy alcohol in the presence of undercover officers. Decoys use their own unaltered IDs.

Hildreth said that decoys are instructed to be honest with the sellers when asked about their age or date of birth.

âÄúThe operations are straight forward, no trickery is involved âĦâÄù Hildreth said in an email. âÄúThe evaluation is a very low level of testing to see if a minimum of compliance exists with each business.âÄù

John Rimarcik, owner of various Minneapolis restaurants including AnnieâÄôs Parlour and the Kitty Cat Klub in Dinkytown, said that the MPD used to use more unfair techniques by checking businesses while they were busy or failing them because employees asked for ID after the decoys were served.

âÄúThey tried to trick you, and they did all kinds of things that were very annoying,âÄù Rimarcik said.

But he said he now supports the checks because the city has improved their practices.

âÄúIf they didnâÄôt do this, there would be all kinds of people out there intentionally serving underage people that it would become a fiasco,âÄù he said.

Don Bye, general manager of SallyâÄôs Saloon and Eatery in Stadium Village, echoed RimarcikâÄôs support but added that some businesses are more serious than others when it comes to selling to minors. He didnâÄôt mention any specific businesses.

In 2009, Stub and HerbâÄôs failed three checks within five months. The business had to pay $6,500 in fines and had to close for three days. They also had to begin using electronic ID readers, and employees had to participate in compliance training.

Hildreth said that businesses around the University of Minnesota are checked at the same rate as businesses in the rest of the city, but he added that the MPD sometimes has special checks when there are large-scale events, like Spring Jam.

Regardless of the frequency of these checks, Bye said that checking IDs is always important at SallyâÄôs.

âÄúItâÄôs all or none, either youâÄôre carding or youâÄôre not,âÄù Bye said. âÄúYou have to be 100 percent compliant 100 percent of the time.âÄù