HOLDEN, Mass. — A recent compliance check conducted by the Holden Police Department revealed that only six of the 17 establishments with liquor licenses in town refused to furnish alcohol to an 18-year old attempting to make an illegal purchase.
Twice a year, the Holden Police Department conducts these compliance checks with all of the liquor establishments in town, strictly as part of an education for local businesses.
"We're not looking to punish anybody, and we're not looking to take away anybody's liquor license" said Police Chief George Sherrill. "It's just see how they are doing checking I.D.'s and that sort of thing."
Traditionally, the department conducts the operation before the holiday season and again before prom season.
On Oct. 28, the police department sent an 18-year-old male into each of the 17 establishments — which includes liquor stores, package stores, restaurants and bars — while a police officer waited outside to take record of the transaction and the server.
With his own valid under 21 I.D., the minor attempted to purchase alcohol at each location. While some servers failed to check identification completely, others did ask to see an I.D., but then still served the minor.
In Massachusetts, an under 21 I.D. is vertical, while residents over 21 have a traditional horizontal I.D.
"That should have been the clue right up front," said Sherrill. "Some people took the license, looked at it, studied it, and still served.
Some servers continued the transaction even after reading the minor's valid birthdate.
"Maybe it's a generational thing now," he said. "We've got people now who can't do math in their head, because they need a calculator."
The six establishments that passed the compliance check were Wong Dynasty, Holden Pizza, Flip Flops, Papa Gino's and One Stop Food Store.
The Police Department sent a letter to the six that were in compliance congratulating them, and the remaining 11 were sent a letter informing them they had failed and would need to address the issue.
The establishments that were not in compliance were encouraged to give the server more training in order to ensure this would not happen again.
"We leave it up to them to follow our recommendations," said Sherrill. "They understand the severity of it. God fordid somebody gets into an accident, somebody gets hurt, somebody gets killed — it's going to come back and hurt them through a civil lawsuit."
Under the Massachusetts host law, an establishment or individual serving alcohol to a person who gets into an accident can be found responsible for any resulting injury or death.
Sherrill said that the compliance checks are not set up to entrap anybody, but mainly to encourage businesses to tighten up and properly train their empoloyees and servers.
"It keeps everybody just a little on guard," said Sherrill. "It's a wake up call. And they take it seriously. It's their livelihood, so for them to be shut down — it's tough enough in this economy, so we try to work with them."
In his tenure as chief, Sherrill said they have only had to suspend a liquor license once.
"It was during the summer months, and we had realized that we had made three or four OUI arrests out of this particular establishment, and the last one resulted in some injuries," said Sherrill. "We said enough's enough, this might be indicative of some over-serving."
As the checks are conducted a couple of times every year, the chief said that if they do find that the same establishments continue failing, it would be up to the Board of Selectmen as the licensing authority in town to determine what the next measure would be.
"This is a positive and proactive approach" said Sherrill. "A lot of cities and towns don't do it, but I just think nothing but good can come out of it. How do you measure a non-event? If this prevents some motor vehicle OUI crashes, so much the better."
Moreover, the checks help police combat the issue of OUI's at one the roots, especially as the majority of OUI offenses in Massachusetts continue to be dismissed at the court level.
"Judges are dismissing them left and right, even with rock solid evidence," said Sherrill, who said this has been frustrating to police officers. "They make good arrests, just to have them thrown out of court."
While the discussion continues on what can be done to reduce OUI's across the state, in his community the chief hoped that the consisitent compliance checks will help keep Holden residents safe.
"A lot of people move to Holden because it's a safe town and a good school system. The auto insurance rates are some of the lowest in the state because of low accidents, and we want that to continue," said Sherrill. "Residents want their kids to come home safe at the end of the night."