Local bar owners enforce alcohol compliance training

BY KRISTEN EAST | MARCH 28, 2012 6:30 AM

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Local bar owners believe the state's first online alcohol-training course will help curb underage drinking in Iowa City.

The state Alcoholic Beverages Division launched I-PACT — the Iowa Program for Alcohol Compliance Training— on March 1. Alcoholic Beverages Division Administrator Stephen Larson said I-PACT is the first free, online alcohol-training program in Iowa to be implemented statewide.

"The overall goal is to increase voluntary compliance with the state's alcohol laws and decrease illegal alcohol sales," he said.

Larson said more than 900 Iowans have completed the training.

Several downtown Iowa City bar owners said the training is beneficial in curbing alcohol sales to minors, and they have had many employees complete the course.

Leah Cohen, the owner of Bo-James, 118 E. Washington St., said she and her employees took the course the day after it launched.

"I told my employees it was required before they took their next shift, so that's what we did," she said. "I thought it was pretty beneficial, and it didn't take a real long time to take — I even learned some things from it."

Tom Lenoch, the owner of the Library, 113 E. College St., said all of his employees are required to take the course by Friday.

"I don't know what it'll do for Iowa City exactly … it's more for the bar's protection," he said. "We can't control every single kid who works for us. [The course] gives us a way to teach our staffs how to do it right if someone makes a mistake."

According to Iowa City and University of Iowa police, the number of public-intoxication arrests from 2010 to 2011 for underage drinkers increased 35 percent.

Local bars have taken additional steps to keeping the underage out, such as the Library's split venue. But Cohen said mistakes can still happen.

"One thing everyone struggles with now more than we used to is fake IDs," she said, referring to effects of the 21-ordinance. "[At Bo-James], we have a pretty thorough training program, but that doesn't mean you can't have mistakes sometimes."

Those caught with selling alcohol to minors may receive a $500 criminal charge, and the establishment will also receive a $500 civil fine. Further violations result in higher fines, license suspension, or revocation, according to the Alcoholic Beverages Division.

George Etre, the owner of Takanami, 219 Iowa Ave., said the course makes a substantial effort in educating people about fake-ID use.

"The program touches base on fake IDs," he said. "I think obviously it's not an end-all, be-all thing. As people get smarter, fake IDs get better and better. But [the course] is one more thing we can do to curb underage drinking."

Etre said all of his employees have I-PACT certificates — which are valid for two-year periods — and prospective employees must be certified before they are hired.

"We take this pretty seriously," he said. "We try to be as hands-on as possible."

One alcohol-safety advocate said she's hopeful about the effect the training will have on Iowa City patrons and establishments.

"Bar staff are pretty young and aren't automatically going to know what the laws are and how to implement them," said Kelly Bender, the UI campus community harm-reduction-initiative coordinator. "It's a great step forward for all of us."

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