Boulder police alcohol sting operations

2006 -- 87 checks, 9 violations

2007 -- 92 checks, 15 violations

2008 -- 60 checks, 15 violations

2009 -- 75 checks, 13 violations

2010 -- 469 checks, 59 violations

2011 (Through Tuesday) --102 checks, 9 violations

Source: Boulder Police Department

Failing a police sting

First offense -- Three-day license suspension for bars and liquor stores, five-day suspension for all other businesses

Second offense -- Six-day license suspension for bars and liquor stores, 10-day suspension for all other businesses

Three or more offenses -- Nine-day license suspension for bars and liquor stores, 15-day suspension for all other businesses

Second offense within one year -- Six-day license suspension for bars and liquor stores, 10-day suspension for all other businesses

Source: City of Boulder penalty schedule

Some teenagers in Boulder can walk into a liquor store, grab a six pack of beer and try to pay for it -- all with the blessing of the Boulder Police Department.


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But that's because the underage volunteers are working for the police, conducting undercover sting operations designed to make sure that liquor stores, bars, restaurants and other places with a liquor license are not selling alcohol to underage customers.

Last year, Boulder police ramped up its sting operations like never before. The department targeted every business with a liquor license -- and they checked them more than once.

In 2010 -- the first year that police checked each of the 248 liquor licenses in the city -- police stung local businesses 469 times and found 59 violations, a failure rate of about 13 percent.

From 2006 to 2009, Boulder police only conducted about 60 to 90 stings per year, according to department records, resulting in an average of 13 violations per year.

'Pretty darn good'

Carlene Hofmann, the alcohol-enforcement officer in charge of the stings for Boulder police, said she was able to ramp up the operations after the department won a $45,000 grant from the Enforcing Underage Drinking Laws program to hire an extra officer.

The increased enforcement also helped Boulder police ticket 150 people for using a fake ID in 2010, the most tickets issued for that offense in at least five years.

Hofmann said the 13 percent failure rate for stings in 2010 points to an overall good effort among alcohol-selling establishments.

"With the amount of checks, I think it looks pretty darn good," she said. "I would like to see it down to 10 percent."

With that goal in mind, Hofmann said she plans to continue the increased sting operations this year.

"We're still going to hit everybody this year," she said. "It's one of my top priorities."

Whether the department is able to renew its federal grant will largely determine how many stings can take place, Hofmann said. But already in 2011, the officer has checked 102 businesses -- nine of which failed the test. Nearly a third of this year's stings took place last weekend.

Cracking down

Police stings work by sending in underage volunteers -- usually Sheriff's Office cadets, police interns or children of Boulder police officers who have squeaky-clean criminal records -- into stores, bars or restaurants while wearing a clandestine listening device. They carry their real IDs, which clearly show they are not 21.

The "bug" transmits the audio from the transaction to Hofmann, who waits outside for the deal to be completed.

"If the place passes, (the volunteers) hand out a business card" notifying businesses that they passed a police test, Hofmann said.

But if the business fails the test and sells the beer without checking an ID, or after ignoring the information on the ID, Hofmann goes inside.

"I'll talk to the manager ... and write the ticket to the person who served it or sold it," she said.

A ticket carries a wide range of punishments in municipal court, including fines or required alcohol-service classes. A ticket also means the business owner has to show up and defend his or her liquor license in front of the Boulder Beverage Licensing Authority -- an appointed board of five people who oversee liquor licenses.

Business owners can present mitigating evidence, such as participation in the Boulder Responsible Hospitality Group, to lessen punishments that usually end up being the suspension of a liquor license for a few days.

'A very lucrative liquor license'

The 55 businesses that are now a part of the hospitality group agree to 11 business practices that include turning in all fake IDs to police, training servers about responsible alcohol sales within three months of hiring and having a good working relationship with police.

Chris Emma, manager of Boulder's Liquor Mart and president of the Responsible Hospitality Group, praised Boulder police for being aggressive about pursuing fake IDs and businesses that sell to minors.

"The sting is really, in my perspective ... a really easy thing to defeat," he said, by checking every ID for people who look younger than 35. "If we do that job ... they're going to defeat that sting every time."

He said it's critical for business owners to protect their investments by following the rules.

"It's a very lucrative liquor license, worth a lot of money," Emma said. "We do everything we can to not put it at risk."

'Our jobs are at stake'

Many companies fire an employee who fails a sting.

In December, for example, the city suspended the liquor license of Hapa on the Hill, located at 1220 Pennsylvania Ave., for five days after an employee failed a police sting. The restaurant immediately fired that worker, according to city records.

Carly Smith, Hapa's general manager, said it's her policy to require all out-of-state and vertical-format IDs to be checked by a manager. Colorado is among the states that use vertical IDs for people under 21, and horizontal IDs for people 21 or older.

"It's important that we aren't serving underage drinkers," Smith said. "Our license is at stake; our jobs are at stake. It can really hurt a company."

'Students of the game'

Some businesses, on the other hand, reward their employees when they pass a police test.

John Fujarczyk, assistant general manager at The Walrus Saloon, located at 1911 11th St., said servers at the bar can win T-shirts and discounts for catching fake IDs.

"All of our doormen take it really seriously," he said.

The bar puts all of its workers through alcohol service training, as well as an in-house program for spotting fake IDs, he said.

"We're students of the game," Fujarczyk said, adding that Walrus servers have a friendly competition for who can collect the most fake IDs.

The Walrus recently received a certificate from the city for passing every police sting for the past 10 years, Fujarczyk said. The certificate now hangs in the front entrance as a reminder to employees to check IDs.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Heath Urie at 303-473-1328 or urieh@dailycamera.com.