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May 12, 2014 10:07 PM


Underage drinking is a serious problem and law enforcement takes it very seriously.  That's why twice a year, the Minnehaha County Sheriff's office conducts alcohol compliance checks with all the establishments in the county that sell booze.

This is what law enforcement is trying to keep out of the hands of teenagers.  But how well are establishments trying?

To find out, we ride along with sheriff's deputies and an undercover 18 year old, as they conduct their most recent liquor sting.  We'll check nine establishments in various communities.

"We conduct a safety brief with the 18 year old that we use in the operation.  We tell them not to get into confrontations with anyone.  We tell them to display their I.D.'s if they are asked and we also tell them not to lie; they are required to give their age, which is 18 years old," Minnehaha County Deputy Mike Walsh said.

Our first stop is in Brandon where we send the 18-year-old into Tailgators.

Clerk: How's it going, man?
Undercover: Good, how are you doing?
Clerk: I'm doing good.
Undercover: Could I get a Miller Lite please?
Clerk: Yes, do you have your ID on you?
Undercover: Indeed, I do.

The bartender does his job and tells the undercover buyer he's not old enough.

Undercover: Alright, thank you

Next we go to the Coffee Cup.  Again, the clerk tells the buyer he's too young to buy alcohol.

Clerk:  Under 21 until 4 of 17, so obviously you're not old enough.
Undercover: Oh ok, thank you.

The last time the sheriff's office conducted one of these liquor stings was back in February. Nine establishments failed that time.

"I was very surprised.  We had an extraordinary amount of people who did not pass, which is rare," Walsh said.

Clerk: No.
Undercover: Ok, thank you.
Clerk: Sorry.

When they do pass, detectives go inside immediately and let them know.

"When an establishment fails, we'll go in to issue a citation, but when it passes, we want to go in and make sure the clerk knows they did a good job and that's precisely what we do.  'Hey, you passed.  Thank you for checking the I.D. Card.  Thank you for checking the driver's license; you did a very good job in passing,'" Walsh said.

Undercover: I'll take a Bud Light.
Waitress: Nope.
Undercover: Thank you.

On this night, they all did a good job. Not one establishment failed.

Clerk: May I see an I.D.?
Undercover: Yes.
Clerk: Uh oh! I can't sell this.
Undercover: Oh ok, thanks.
Detective:  How'd that go?
Undercover: Good, I thought I had it.

"I think the message is getting out there and for this reason, when we do these compliance checks with some rare exceptions, most establishments pass," Walsh said.

Clerk: It doesn't look like you are old enough to purchase this beer. You're 18, you need to be 21.

"They ask me how old I am, I said 18 and then it's usually, 'Can't serve you,'" Max said.

One of those who passed is Chad Mathers.  He's a long-time bartender at the Valley Bar in Valley Springs.

"He comes in and says, 'Can I get a Coors?' And I'm like, 'Coors what? Coors Light? Anything?,'" Mathers said.

Mathers says there's no reason for anyone to fail a compliance check.

"I said, 'Can I see your I.D.?'  And he hands me his I.D. And I said, 'Are you old enough?' and he says, 'No, I'm not.  I'm 18,' so I handed his I.D back and said go somewhere else," Mathers said.

Mathers says his training and experience tells him how to spot an underage buyer or even a fake I.D.

"We do take a class called TAM, Techniques Against Alcohol Management.  We have to take once every five years and I think that does help us a lot," Mathers said.

And it shows.

"I'm very proud of the track record that we have here, I don't think we've ever been caught yet in a sting," Mathers said.

Clerk: I'm going to have to refuse you service.
Undercover: Alright, thank you.

And that's good news for those who are conducting these compliance checks.

"Kids, my age really shouldn't be getting involved with this kind of stuff because the responsibilities that go along with it are too grand for them to handle and I think it's good for them to get to the actual age of 21 before they start drinking," Max said.

"The fact my team didn't have a single one makes me very happy.  It tells me what we are doing is working.  It tells me people are taking this very seriously, which is what we have to do with underage drinking.  We have to take it as seriously as we can," Walsh said.

There were actually two undercover buyers that night, KELOLAND News followed just the one.  The other 18 year old was able to buy alcohol at the Get N Go in Hartford. That clerk was given a citation and must appear in court.

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