After a five-year hiatus, county deputies have started doing alcohol sales stings again.
The Teton County Sheriff’s Office began testing businesses Sept. 9 — the first such compliance checks since 2014 — in an effort to preempt alcohol sales to minors.
“We don’t want underage drinking,” Sgt. Todd Stanyon said. “It’s a large problem in our community, and we want to encourage our liquor license holders to comply with the law.”
There are 69 liquor licenses in the county, which doesn’t include the 82 licenses in the town of Jackson.
The sheriff’s office stopped conducting the checks because of a staff shortage and the challenge of finding a willing individual between 18 and 20 years old to participate, even though it’s a paid position.
Businesses that sell alcohol are subject to compliance checks performed by cops to prevent sales to minors. During the checks an underage person working with law enforcement attempts to buy alcohol from a business, and if the minor succeeds the employee is cited.
“There is no trickery involved,” Stanyon said.
In the Sept. 9 stings, every clerk asked the undercover young adult for an ID, but clerks at Bodega and at the Mangy Moose Cellars and Grocery failed to recognize the date of birth. Clerks at Basecamp, Hungry Jacks and West Side Wine and Spirits passed.
The undercover individual is not allowed to lie during the checks.
“If they ask them if they are 21, they have to say no,” Stanyon said. “We are not trying to trick anybody. We prefer that everyone passes all the time. We don’t want to write citations for it.”
The citation for prohibited sale of alcohol to minors is a misdemeanor.
Law enforcement agencies are not required to do compliance checks by law but in 2017, when Sheriff Matt Carr was a lieutenant under then-Sheriff Jim Whalen, he said it was a goal for the department to do them again.
“Yes, we’ve had staffing issues,” Carr said at the time. “Yes, we’ve had a challenge to get suitable young folks to work with us. But those are not adequate excuses. It’s a real matter of community safety, and I’m committed to doing these compliance checks whether or not we have a grant.”
The Jackson Police Department does compliance checks twice a year, or sometimes more often, using grants from the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police, the Jackson Town Council or the Wyoming Department of Health.
The Teton County Sheriff’s Office has opted to do the checks on their own, using overtime or a deputy’s regular shift time.
Carr said that’s because the state grant’s guidelines were too strict for what they can realistically take on.
“It was checking every license in the county quarterly,” Carr said. “That’s not just liquor stores. It’s anyone who sells a beer, so all the hotels, think Grand Teton and Yellowstone, all the way up to Old Faithful. But we think they’re important, which is why we’re using funds out of the regular county budget.”
Stings are done randomly and aren’t announced. Stanyon said they’ll do another round this winter and plan to hit the sloshie establishments in summer 2020.