Instead of 21-ordinance, city should consider increasing number of bar stings


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Councilors are tired of the city’s drinking culture. That much is clear after they resurrected the 21-ordinance last week.

But will the 21-ordinance, which top University of Iowa officials support, really have the effect proponents hope it will?

As stated in our editorial last week, we believe such a broad ordinance would not. Instead, we favor more targeted efforts by the council and university to fix the drinking problem.

Specifically, the Editorial Board supports an increase in the number of alcohol-compliance checks, or bar stings. The last compliance checks, conducted in February, caught six establishments out of the 49 checked.

The Editorial Board has consistently viewed overconsumption — rather than underage drinking — as the root problem. Still, if the city truly wants to crack down on underage drinking, it should emphasize compliance checks, not pass the 21-ordinance. This approach would address the concerns councilors have with underage drinking, while averting some of the unfortunate ramifications of the 21-ordinance.

If the Iowa City police were to conduct more bar checks — without the city enacting the ordinance — they would ensure that the individuals actually responsible for selling alcohol are compliant with the law rather than just punishing bar owners. Just as we support individual responsibility for those consuming alcohol, we back responsibility for those servers and bartenders who may be serving underage patrons to help themselves for tips, pay, etc. The proposed 21-ordinance would do little to encourage personal responsibility.

In addition, increasing bar stings would underscore the need for bar owners to adequately train their staffs. In order to solve the city’s drinking problem, all actors need to take responsibility — bar patrons, bartenders, and bar owners.

While some fear alcohol-compliance checks may involve deceptive practices on the part of law enforcement, the manner in which the Iowa City police conducts the checks is not deceptive in any sense.

“When we do alcohol-compliance checks, first of all they are all the same,” Iowa City Police Sgt. Denise Brotherton said. “There is an officer who observes the entire process, our volunteers use their real IDs, they do not try to deceive whoever checks their IDs, and we check to see if everyone from the door person to the bartender checked their IDs.”

If the council approves the 21-ordinance, it would be a clear public-relations boon for officials weary of alcohol-related problems. But our more nuanced proposal of increasing alcohol-compliance checks would enforce the existing laws governing alcohol purchases without adding an overly broad ordinance.

Coupling this with smaller measures, such as limiting drink specials and drink quantity, could change Iowa City’s drinking culture for the better. While this approach may not be as expansive as the proposed 21-ordinance, it certainly would be less punitive and more effective.

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