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Point system for liquor store compliance explored locally

Jun 4, 2014 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

Officials from Casper shared information in Riverton about a demerit point system they use to identify violations from liquor license holders.

Several groups in the Riverton area are trying to come up with a similar point system to help ensure liquor dealers are following code regulations and conducting business appropriately. Representatives from the Prevention Management Organization of Wyoming, the Riverton Police Department, the city of Riverton and local business owners joined community members at a public meeting in May at Central Wyoming College to talk about the plan.

They were joined by officials from the Casper Police Department and the Casper Liquor Dealers Association, who talked about the Casper Alcohol Demerit Point System.

Points add up

The system gives a certain number of points to a licensee depending on what regulation the business violated. For example, failure to display a license could earn licensees 10 points, while an improper transfer of license would garner 50 points. Reported public indecency on premises gets 25 points.

If a business acquires 125 points in a year, its license is suspended for seven days.

"But for someone to reach 125 points... you really have to be doing a poor job in running your establishment," CPD Lt. Steve Freel said. "If you're running your business the way you should, this is not going to hurt anybody."

If the business acquires 175-250 points in a year, its license is suspended for 30 days. The suspension periods continue to increase depending on points acquired. If violations continue to build up for a business, the city may bring forward a petition to revoke the establishment's license.

A pass or fail report from each licensee also is published in the local newspaper.

A "one-time pass" is awarded to liquor dealers if employees obtain Training for Intervention Procedures. The training was designed to help employees prevent underage drinking, drunk driving or other potential alcohol-related problems.

Business owners

Natrona County Liquor Dealers Association board member Mike Reid said changes have been made to the system since it was first implemented in order to more fairly address issues that lead to police involvement. He explained that the point system shows whether a business is really following municipal code.

"The great thing about it is you know where you're at," Reid said. "It's not subjective... When it comes to renewal time someone just can't say you're doing a bad job."

Reid, the owner of Poplar Wind and Spirits in Casper, said the system also created a new channel of communication between business owners and city officials.

It also shows the public that business owners are committed to a safe community, he said.

"It's helped the trust level that we have with the police department (and) its helped the police department's trust level with us," Reid said.

In his business, Reid said he holds his employees accountable if they don't follow the rules. He also rewards his employees by giving them $50 if they pass a sting -- an operation by local law enforcement to see if employees follow city code.

"Quite honestly, it keeps people on their toes," he said.

He added that not all liquor dealers agreed with using the system.

Positive actions

When a similar proposal was presented to the Fremont County Liquor Dealers Association, the group expressed a desire for a system that also recognized positive actions.

"If the bars and liquor stores are getting a bad reputation in this town it is because we are never recognized for the good things we do," the FCLDA said in a statement. "We don't feel that whether or not we have our liquor license posted correctly makes a difference to the 'alcohol problem' of this community."

Casper's system applies demerit points only, but Kelly Rees, community prevention professional with Fremont County's Prevention Management Organization, said the system in Riverton also could provide positive points as well.

Business conduct only

Freel said the system in Casper doesn't put the blame for public intoxication on liquor dealers.

"The demerit system doesn't address DUIs, it doesn't address public intoxication -- it addresses how you run the establishment," he said.

Liquor license holders attending the meeting said they felt the system would pinpoint their businesses as causing a problem in Riverton that they had no control over.

"The alcohol problem that we have in Riverton is completely different, and this in itself is not going to curb the alcohol problem," Randy Archer of Riverton said.

Freel noted that the RPD typically deals with twice the number of public intoxication reports than the CPD. He agreed that the demerit system wouldn't solve every problem related to alcohol consumption, but he reiterated that bringing together liquor dealers, the city and law enforcement helps bridge a communication gap while also providing a forum for sharing ideas to address the issues.

Reid said each city has its own problems to deal with.

"I may not be part of the problem, but I'm part of the issue," Reid said. "When I sell that alcohol, I have a responsibility."

He explained that the system basically levels the "playing field" with the city and builds respect for liquor license holders in the community. Since the system was implemented in Natrona County in 2013, Reid said no establishments have been shut down.

City's interest

Riverton mayor Ron Warpness said the city is not interested in shutting down local liquor establishments.

"The city of Riverton, as an organization, is not opposed to the alcohol industry," Warpness said. "There are a lot of people who think that the city is doing everything we can to shut (down) the alcohol in this community. ... We're not; we're trying to figure out a way to deal with (alcohol abuse)."

Warpness mentioned his legislative push to raise the tax on beer to help fund programs in the state that deal with alcohol addiction problems.

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