Downtown Columbia underage drinking levels decline

CPD believes the trend is a result of the creation of the downtown unit.

Underage drinking levels in downtown Columbia are steadily decreasing, Columbia Police Department spokeswoman Jessie Haden said.

The trend appears to be a gradual change that began with the inception of the downtown unit two years ago.

“One of the first things Chief (Ken) Burton did last year in 2009 when he came was implement our downtown unit,” Haden said.

The unit was started initially to keep the peace at bar-closing times, Haden said, where occurrence of fights had escalated. Seven officers make up the initiative.

“What they found was that by taking a comprehensive approach, which meant dealing with smaller issues earlier in the evening and would include minors in possession, fake IDs, open containers and things like that, we actually let people see a police presence earlier on in the evening and let people see that police are going to enforce even the smaller stuff,” Haden said.

For several years now, CPD has partnered with MU, the Wellness Resource Center and the state division of liquor control to hold an annual bar owners' meeting at the beginning of the school year. The meeting offers training for servers, which includes lessons on checking identification and looking for signs of over-intoxication.

Haden said the server training was well-attended this year.

“If we enforce underage-drinking laws downtown, we know that means underage drinkers will try and find other places to drink, and so we are not going to unfairly enforce underage drinking laws,” Haden said.

Haden said when officers of the downtown unit hear underage drinkers have found new bars, they will make the trip to perform walkthroughs of those places.

“So, we’ve been able to completely alleviate those concerns from the downtown establishment owners,” Haden said.

Haden said the last thing CPD wants is to report bars for consistent violations.

This exact situation has happened several times in the last few years and resulted in the shutdown of bars such as By George and Athena Night Club.

“We worked with them tirelessly to try and avoid that from happening,” Haden said. “They just were not cooperating with the process.”

Haden said she believes bar patrons who are aged 21 and older do not want to be at bars with drunken 18- and 19-year-olds.

“So, if we start enforcing underage drinking more, you are going to lose the business of your 18- and 19-year-olds,” Haden said. “We acknowledge that. But those slots will be filled by patrons who are 21 and older when they realize that your place is someplace they can now come and enjoy drinks with people their own age.”

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