SHERIDAN — In the past couple years, Sheridan County has come out of alcohol and tobacco compliance checks with positive results, not dipping below 85 percent in the last two years. For local law enforcement, though, anything less than perfect is not good enough.
“On average we’re about 85 percent (of liquor dealers that pass compliance),” Sheridan Police Department Lt. Travis Koltiska said. “We really are working on getting that up higher. We want 100 percent compliance.”
SPD has been completing alcohol compliance checks for more than 10 years, but the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police have only posted the last two years of compliance check results for alcohol and tobacco.
The most recent compliance check year, which spans from the fall of 2017 to the spring of 2018, showed Sheridan 96.1 percent compliant in tobacco sales and 94.4 percent compliant in alcohol sales.
These percentages translated to only two failures from the businesses checked.
Koltiska said officers who complete compliance checks with a stinger, or underage decoy, try to check every single business within city limits but usually miss a few because of the business being closed or out of service for a particular season.
When businesses do not pass the compliance checks, that typically means a server did not follow through with their Training for Intervention Procedures known as TIPS. TIPS class completion is required for all servers of alcohol at an establishment or event in Sheridan County. Classes can be taken through either of the law enforcement agencies in Sheridan or through an online course. The class empowers servers to check IDs and tell patrons no if they are underage or over-imbibing.
The same training is not available for establishments selling tobacco products, but SPD still completes compliance checks for those entities.
Two businesses failed alcohol compliance checks in 2017-18 — Wyoming Rib and Chop House and Powder River Pizza Company — which is a significant drop from the 2016-17 year, when 12 businesses did not pass compliance checks. Wyoming state statute requires law enforcement to immediately cite the server if they serve alcohol to a minor. Those citations require the server appear in court for their set date and follow through with court proceedings. The eventual citation amount totaled $585 for each server.
In addition to the server being cited, the establishment holding the liquor license must comply with follow-up regulations outlined in the city of Sheridan’s ordinance. The ordinance requires liquor licensees to construct a plan for the server to complete further education or training. The plan is submitted to the city clerk following a conviction from the court to maintain compliance.
Tobacco compliance checks are less stringent, but two businesses did not pass compliance in the 2017-18 year: Quik Sak and Good 2 Go. Bond amounts on the citations for the clerks not passing compliance checks totaled $85.
Compliance checks are simple to pass if servers follow guidelines learned in TIPS training. A plainclothes officer accompanies the minor into the establishments. The underage person is always honest about their age and hands the server their real identification if asked.
“There are no tricks,” Koltiska said.
Sheridan County Sheriff Allen Thompson said his office does not complete compliance checks in the county. Because the trend of compliance checks is increasing, he is heavily considering adding it to the duties of his deputies. Because of the unique nature of licenses in the county, though, Thompson said it is difficult to check licenses equally.
He estimated only about a quarter of the total liquor licenses held outside of city limits and within the county are storefronts, so sending in stings for the storefronts only would not be fair to all liquor license holders.
Statistically speaking, Thompson said, more issues arise with license holders who do not have a storefront then those that do. By not completing compliance checks, SCSO is losing out on available grant funding for such programs.
Sheridan ranks above the state average of 94.5 percent in tobacco compliance and above the state average of 88.9 percent in alcohol compliance, but law enforcement will continue pushing to reach 100 percent compliance through proper training.