NUPD alcohol enforcement has lost its ‘sting’

NEW ULM – The New Ulm Police Department has not conducted undercover stings for selling alcohol to minors in New Ulm businesses with liquor licenses since late 2009. The lack of operations is also unlikely to change until late this year.

An analysis of New Ulm’s selling to minors violations shows the last citation was given in November 2009. New Ulm Police Chief Myron Wieland confirmed the stings have not been conducted since that time.

Interviews with New Ulm bars and businesses with liquor license indicate NUPD officers only rarely conducted spot checks for underage drinkers in the establishments since that time, mainly during peak dates like Bock Fest.

Wieland said the lack of stings was only due to the departments inability to find a single underage individual willing to volunteer for a sting. He said the department has recruited from colleges in the Mankato region with success in past, but has found no willing participants since late 2009.

“This wasn’t by our choice. We just lacked the ability to find somebody under 21 will to work with us,” said Wieland.

Undercover stings require strict criteria and actions to justify the resulting citation in the event they are challenged in court. The buyer must actually be under 21 years old with a valid license and must exactly follow a strictly constructed script that establishes the buyer should not have been served. The buyers are sometime accompanied by undercover witnesses and compensated for their time at around $15 per hour, with their transportation also covered.

Wieland said underage individuals the department has approached turned down the offers for reasons ranging from fear they would be unable to patronize the bars in the future to being uninterested in the amount of compensation.

One consequence of the lack of undercover stings by NUPD is New Ulm’s “Best Practices” ordinance now lacks teeth because potential violators are not being differentiated from those following the ordinance’s intent. The ordinance gives participating businesses a 15 percent discount on their liquor license and up a 25 percent discount on their liquor license if they go three years without violation. The ordinance simply requires 75 percent of the staff receive NUPD training on alcohol compliance within 180 days of hiring and the business execute its own yearly alcohol compliance training.

Beyond the discount, the ordinance also slightly reduces the penalties for basic license violations. The first violation each year results in a $250 fine and a five days suspension of their liquor license, while the second violation is $500 and a 5 day suspension.

“Best Practice” participants get to forego the five days suspensions. If a business is cited a third time within a year, they lose their “Best Practices” status for one license year and receive the normal third strike penalties of a $1,000 fine and a 15 day suspension. A fourth violation in a year results in license revocation.

Interviews with local New Ulm bars owners showed undercover consumption stings to be very unpopular. The owners largely focused their frustration on what they consider the unfair difference between how underage drinkers they catch are penalized, compared to how highly the businesses are fined for violations.

Going forward, both Wieland and city officials have stated they do not plan any disciplinary action over the department going more than three years without conducting underage consumption stings. Wieland said he felt discipline would be pointless since the cause of the incident was outside the department’s control.

The lack of stings is also unlikely to change for several months. Wieland said the department very recently contacted a possible buyer for operations, but the individual will not be available until at least this fall.

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