Evansville officials believe alcohol checks reduce underage drinking
EVANSVILLE -- Caleb Zanoni, 19, walked out of the Mobil gas station at 350 N. Union Road with a six-pack of Bud Light.
He walked back to the car of Evansville police officer Merysia Hernandez and handed her the change from his purchase.
The six-pack was the only successful alcohol purchase out of five attempts by minors Friday during a check of alcohol retailers, but it broke the city's perfect record. In April, all five licensed retailers passed the compliance check, according to data provided by Jen Braun, executive director of Building a Safer Evansville.
Officer Christopher Jones said the goal always is zero sales. The police hope compliance checks can be a learning experience for retailers instead of a punishment.
Less underage drinking has been reported by high school students since the alcohol compliance checks began in 2014.
In 2012, 48 percent of Evansville High School students reported consuming alcohol in the previous 30 days, according to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
That number dropped to 30 percent as of 2016.
“I think it's important to hold businesses accountable,” Braun said. “It's the law. Just making sure they're sticking with that, especially in Wisconsin where we have such a culture with underage drinking.”
Building a Safer Evansville provides police and retailers training and resources for checking IDs and detecting fake IDs, Braun said.
When a clerk sells alcohol to a minor during a check, the officer in charge returns later to issue a citation, Jones said.
“Their (the clerks') jobs can be at stake,” Jones said. “We don't want to ruin anyone's lives.”
Every six months, Building a Safer Evansville and the police department send letters to retailers informing them that compliance checks are planned, Braun said.
Whether the businesses pass or fail is up to the clerks.
“Nothing we do is deceitful,” Jones said.
Volunteers who test the retailers are 19 or 20 years old and usually are chosen from criminal justice programs at Blackhawk Technical College or Madison Area Technical College, Jones said.
The department chooses volunteers who look their age, Braun said. The goal is not to trick anyone with volunteers who look older than 21.
Zanoni and Brandon Bash, 20, volunteered Friday. Both are criminal justice students and community service officers at the Brodhead Police Department.
Since 2014, results from the alcohol compliance checks have varied, according to the data.
Evansville has seen 100 percent compliance during two of the nine checks, according to the data.
Back-to-back checks in September 2014 and February 2015 resulted in two out of five establishments passing the checks.
Since then, each check has seen more establishments pass than fail, according to the data.
For the next compliance check, Braun hopes to include bars and restaurants, she said.
In 2016, 25 percent of high school students in Rock County reported consuming alcohol within the prior 30 days, according to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey. That is consistent with 2014, when 26 percent of students reported consuming alcohol within the last 30 days.
About 5,900 high school students in Rock County participated in the survey in 2016, according to the survey.
While at least one-quarter of students reported consuming alcohol, a larger number reported understanding risks associated with drinking alcohol.
Students were asked “how much do you think people risk harming themselves physically or in other ways when they have five or more drinks of an alcoholic beverage once or twice a week?”
In 2016, 79 percent of Evansville High School students answered with “moderate” or “great” risk, according to the survey. That was 14 percentage points higher than Rock County at 65 percent.
Numbers decreased from 2014, when 91 percent of Evansville students and 71 percent of Rock County students reported perceiving moderate or great risk from alcohol consumption.
Alcohol remains the most popular illegal substance among Rock County students, according to the survey.
The second-most reported substance was marijuana, according to the survey.
In 2016, 18 percent of high school students in Rock County reported using marijuana within 30 days of being asked, according to the survey. That's consistent with 19 percent in 2014.
Perception of moderate or great risk in using marijuana is lower than in any other category, according to the survey. Only 46 percent of students reported seeing marijuana as a risk to health an safety.
Healthy Edgerton and the Edgerton Police Department conduct alcohol compliance checks for the 16 retailers, bars and restaurants that serve alcohol in the city, said Meagan Farrell from Healthy Edgerton.
Compliance checks are conducted four times a year in Edgerton, with each location being checked at least twice, Farrell said.
Six locations, all bars and restaurants, were checked Friday, Farrell said. One location failed.
Like Evansville, Edgerton has seen varied success since the checks began in 2015, Farrell said.
In 2015, one check produced four failing locations, Farrell said. Since then, they usually see only one fail per check.
Since conducting regular compliance checks, rates of underage drinking have gone down, Farrell said.