City to Enforce Training Regs for People Who Serve, Sell Alcohol

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COLUMBIA - The Columbia Police Department is still trying to find the most efficient way to enforce the mandatory Server-Training ordinance that was approved more than a year ago.

The city council approved the ordinance in November 2012. It requires anyone who serves or sells alcohol, including bartenders, waitresses, waiters, gas station attendants and grocery store clerks, to pass a training course and obtain certification. The council granted a one-year grace period for employees to get their certificate, meaning everyone who serves or sells alcohol should have had their certification by Jan. 1 of this year.

That was not the case. As of Jan. 29, 2,682 server cards had been issued by the health department, according to Andrea Waner, spokesperson for the Columbia/Boone County Department of Health and Human Services. It's unclear how many people should have one.

"It is really hard to determine how many people in Columbia serve or sell alcohol because there are so many factors involved," Waner said. "It is really kind of a complicated number to subscribe."

Despite there being no record of how many people within the city limits serves or sells alcohol, Ryan Worley, the Coordinator of the Youth Committee Coalition, said the push for stricter alcohol regulations in Columbia is not a new idea.

"Since 2008, when we got more aggressive with the compliance checks, we had about fifty-fifty compliance," Worley said. "You'd go to a store and one [person] wouldn't sell, but the next one would to a minor, and that is just unacceptable. So, we were really diligent the last couple of years and we have seen the compliance rate go up to 75-80 percent."

Worley said one of the contributing factors to getting the ordinance passed was the college town atmosphere and the high prevalence of underage and problem drinking. Another thing leading to the passage, Worley said, was the town's awareness and readiness for a solution.

Both Waner and Worley said everyone who should know about the mandatory Server-Training ordinance had plenty of time to comply with the law.

"We worked with the Alcohol Abuse Commission and contacted restaurant managers, and all those various stake holders with post cards," Waner said. "Then, we did a more heavy push of an ad campaign and we did TV, radio ads, we did social media and Internet ads, and things like that."

Houlihan's bar manager Tee Grant said, "We knew about it in October and we made it mandatory by the end of December. I don't understand why people aren't getting it taken care of."

Worley said new policies and practices often take awhile to gain traction. He said it takes time for people to start working it into the normal rhythm of hiring practices.

"I think that it doesn't just represent a policy change, but it also represents a culture change in the stores and the management," Worley said. "There are still some stores that need to change their internal culture and internal processes and when you hire a new person a part of that process is that they become certified as a beverage server."

The process starts, Waner said, when someone takes a test. First, alcohol servers need to print out the certificate that says they have completed the course and received 100 percent. Next, they bring the document to the Department of Public Health and Human Services to get a physical card. 

"The actual physical cards are issued as a matter of keeping record," Waner said. "They will come into play when the Columbia Police Department starts doing the compliance checks."

The physical cards cost $5, and they have to be renewed every three years.

"When the fee is received, it is split between two divisions within the department to cover the costs associated with staff time to process the applications, as well as covering the materials directly relating to the production of the server cards," Waner said. "It is also important to note that if someone were to come in and get their server card in combination with their food handler's card, the fee for the server card would be waived."

The Columbia Police Department is still working on how it will enforce the ordinance, but Sgt. Candy Cornman said she thinks patrolling for the server-training cards will be a part of the officers' normal duties.

"I think one of the most important keys to my role or my unit's role in enforcing this is also to educate," Cornman said. "So whenever we go into a business and we ask to see someone's server certificate or ask to see all of the employee's server certificate if there is an employee there that doesn't have one we educate and then follow-up within 30 days to see if they have it. Obviously it is the business owners responsibility to ensure their employees are getting it, but as far as how we will enforce that with the business I do not know yet."

Cornman said the police do not generally worry about the fine amounts, because those are set and enforced by the court. Dee Williams, with the Columbia Municipal Court, said fines range from $75 all the way up to $1,000. Williams also said violations require an in-court appearance, and the judge will decide the final fine, plus court fees.

Since this ordinance involves anyone who serves or sells alcohol, that means the Columbia Police Department is responsible for enforcing it in all bars, restaurants, grocery stores, and gas stations. Cornman said her unit wants to approach this in a reasonable manner so they can effectively enforce it across the board. 

"We don't want the businesses downtown to feel like they are being picked on or like they are under a microscope because they have a unit assigned to their area," Cornman said. "It is just one of those things we will have to figure out how to enforce across the board equally so we are hitting every business in town."

Cornman said reinventing the wheel has never been the best option. Cornman also said Missouri is the 37th state that has adopted some type of law that requires people who handle alcohol to obtain additional server training.

"We have not talked to the other states," Cornman said. "Not because we weren't aware that the law was passed, but simply because I think there was some misunderstanding that we were going to the ones enforcing it. So we are in the process of trying to do the education for ourselves so we know how to properly enforce it, and so we can find the best way to enforce it. If I can figure out how someone else is doing it and they are doing it in an effective manner, then I will do it that way as well."

The City of Columbia's website says the goal of the ordinance is to get servers the information and tools they need to serve alcohol responsibly. The desired result is:

  • Reduced liability for servers and businesses
  • A decrease underage drinking and binge drinking
  • Fewer alcohol related accidents, including nighttime DWI crashes
  • Less crime, including property damage, assault and sexual assault

When KOMU 8 News asked the Columbia health department and the police department exactly how they think the ordinance will reduce liability, underage drinking, fewer DWI's and less crime they had similar responses.

Cornman said, "If you don't educate someone who has the great responsibility of serving alcohol or intoxicants on the benefits or the detriments to serve to someone who shouldn't be receiving that drink the liability falls not only on the establishment but also the server."

One of the biggest helps, she said, would be reducing instances in which people are over served.

"You know that person obviously is really intoxicated and the server is normally scared to serve to them because they are so impaired, but they are also scared not to serve to them because they will get in trouble. Having that training will help solidify in their mind that they are not going to be in trouble with their boss for refusing to serve that drink or serve that alcohol to that person that shouldn't be receiving it."

For more information on the ordinance visit the City of Columbia's website.

Below is a time line of when the ordinance was first introduced: