Underage drinking citations up, police chief tells liquor board | AspenTimes.com

Underage drinking citations up, police chief tells liquor board

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Last year, Aspen police issued 24 citations for underage drinking. So far this year, officers have already ticketed eight young adults for the offense, according to Police Chief Loren Ryerson.

“Underage drinking is becoming somewhat of a hot topic,” Ryerson told the Aspen Liquor Licensing Authority on Tuesday, briefing the liquor board on his department’s stepped-up enforcement.

“Does the problem itself appear to be getting worse?” asked board member Gary Esary.

Ryerson was hesitant to frame the issue that way. “That’s almost like saying it was OK before,” he said.

The upswing in arrests may be the result of greater vigilance by police, or more people under age 21 may be drinking in local bars, Ryerson said.

Police are trying to help Aspen bar and club operators better screen their customers at the door, but fake IDs are awfully good and some establishments are going to let underage patrons in, Ryerson said.

“It’s no secret to anyone in the bar business that young women in bars is good for business,” he said. “Many of the bars either actively let them in or passively let them in.”

It’s not illegal for a minor to be in a bar, Ryerson pointed out. Police only have grounds to issue a citation if the individual is carrying a fake ID or has an alcoholic beverage in hand, Ryerson said.

“The fake IDs, quite frankly, are better than the ones you and I have in our wallets,” he said.

“It’s a battle you can never win,” Esary said.

Nonetheless, the police are working with local bouncers and bar operators. The department will hold a meeting tonight at City Hall for bar and liquor store employees to offer tips on spotting fake IDs and discuss the serving of minors and overserving of patrons.

The department has also been posting an officer outside local nightspots on occasion to back up bouncers, Ryerson said.

Bar operators will get a heads-up on small scanners that are now available to check the magnetic strip on the back of most ID cards. Fake IDs typically have the strip, but it’s devoid of any data.

It won’t take long for the makers of fake IDs to correct that deficiency, predicted liquor board member Steve Goldenberg.

Along with enforcement, Ryerson hinted he’d like to see Aspen find a place for young adults who aren’t yet 21 to go out on the town.

“What’s the carrot side of it? What can we do as a community to give them an outlet?” he mused. “Frankly, some of these kids just want to go dancing.”

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]

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