An effective compliance checks operation relies on collaborative relationships between law enforcement, the court system, alcohol retailers and community leaders. Their input and support will lay the important foundation and buy-in necessary for a successful operation.
Enforcement is in part an educational effort. The outcomes of enforcement activity serve to teach the public at large about consequences for non-compliance, creating a deterrent effect, discouraging others from providing alcohol to minors once they are aware of the consequences faced by others who have done so previously. The education of the community is a key part of environmental change, both short and long-term. Environmental change sets the stage to allow enforcement personnel to comfortably go about the process of enforcing underage drinking laws, with the knowledge that the community already understands the sanctions for non-compliance.
Your community leaders are in a perfect position to facilitate change. Given their position in the community, be it political or civic, paid or volunteer, they are likely respected individuals who can assist in raising public awareness and support on the topic.
Members of the criminal justice system, and particularly your prosecution staff, can play a valuable role in making the requirements and parameters of enforcing these laws and regulations more clear to law enforcement and to the community. The inclusion of your prosecutor’s office in early planning and implementation activities can open the door for better communications and fewer surprises. Too often, the best plans falter because all the stakeholders aren’t on the same page before enforcement activities commence. Regulatory agencies can oftentimes provide enforcement personnel with valuable information to ensure the compliance checks are conducted in a manner which will meet or exceed requirements for administrative sanctions in addition to any criminal or civil action.
Be sure to solicit input from retailers on potential steps to improve compliance rates. This is best accomplished before enforcement activities are initiated. This approach provides the retailers with an opportunity to be part of the solution. Sometimes just heightened problem awareness and the knowledge that compliance check operations are imminent will increase the sensitivity for retailers and garner a higher rate of voluntary and proactive compliance.
Don’t forget the importance of providing basic training to merchants around their responsibilities and the laws and regulations concerning sales of alcohol to minors. Training for merchants can be supplemented with very helpful, and often inexpensive, tools to assist in calculating the age of a buyer or false identification recognition.
Developing a proactive rapport with local media is important to subsequent needs for media support. Getting information to the media in advance of an operation will increase your chances of getting coverage. Include media representatives from the beginning. This will allow them exposure to the same problem identification and needs assessment that other stakeholders are receiving. When enforcement activities are conducted, provide the results to your media point of contact as soon as possible.
The success of your compliance check operation will largely hinge on getting the right people on your team and involved. The above suggestions were merely the basics. You may have other key stakeholders in your community that would be beneficial to include in your compliance check operations.
Stays tuned for step 2.