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New Policy Aims to Crack Down on Over-Serving

“Place of Last Drink” policies are popping up throughout Minnesota, with more than 30 cities using or considering the measures. Known as POLD, the policies allow law enforcement agencies to track where people have had their last alcoholic drink. The policies kick in after a range of alcohol-related issues, from driving while intoxicated to assaults or accidental injury, show up in police reports. The intent is to crack down on bars and restaurants that may over-serve alcohol.

The program began about two years ago, mainly with police departments in the Twin Cities’ northwestern suburbs. Last year it expanded to cities such as Brooklyn Park, Champlin, Maple Grove, Wayzata, Golden Valley, Edina and White Bear Lake. One outstate city involved is Mankato, the home of Minnesota State University-Mankato and a large bar-restaurant community. 

While those in the hospitality community agree the over-serving of alcohol needs to be addressed, individual business owners and organizations raise concerns about how alcohol consumption is tracked and what factors the tracking takes into account. These factors can range from how the size of an establishment or the number of patrons is weighed when viewing data, to how reliable information taken from an intoxicated person can be. Yet another concern is consistency of policies from community to community.

POLD communities use police reports, receipts and interviews about where a final drink was consumed. That data in turn is used to track potential problems and, as needed, provide education for liquor license holders. City and police officials said they prefer to use education before having to apply sanctions against a license holder.

Excelsior city officials just approved a POLD policy in December 2015 and have continued to work on specifics for its use. A first quarter review of data is wrapping up to see which, if any, establishments are in violation. City Manager Kristi Luger said establishments in violation would be notified. While nothing was set by FSN deadline, Luger said it appeared that two liquor license holders are in violation of the policy. 

“We plan to reach out to those businesses,” she said, and also noted that while Excelsior has a strong hospitality community and city officials don’t want to kill what can be a popular area for summer fun and evenings out, there is a need to hold businesses accountable. “This is something our mayor and city council felt strongly about.”

In Excelsior the policy applies to on-sale and off-sale liquor license holders. POLD in that city includes a reminder to licensees of the city’s mandatory training for those who sell or serve alcohol as well as documentation of training. The city also has a quarterly POLD threshold for each establishment, using the number of POLD entries when a person had a blood alcohol measure at or above 0.20 percent. The threshold for each business is set based on occupancy. Other steps spell out when a business owner must meet with the city council and how POLD cases could affect liquor license renewal.

Bob Ziton is one of the owners of Bayside Grille in Excelsior. Among his concerns is how alcohol consumption is tracked, especially when patrons may have visited other establishments before going to Bayside to enjoy music or a late dinner. There’s also worry that people who consume alcohol in their homes could claim they were overserved at a business. Another challenge unique to Excelsior is that people may consume alcohol on a boat and then come into an establishment.

“We’re looking at this as an opportunity to further hone our policies and procedures,” Ziton said. Bayside already has its own trained security staff, follows a wristband policy and has all staff go through training on alcohol service. Banning alcohol consumption on the dock outside the restaurant is another consideration.

Several restaurant and bar owners contacted said they are taking a wait-and-see attitude with POLD, as it is new in many communities. That includes West St. Paul’s Cherokee Tavern co-owner Jim Casper. “I think it’s just too early to tell,” he said.

Proponents said they want to work with liquor license holders to get compliance, not to be punitive. They emphasize that the main intent is to get drunk drivers off of the road. 

The POLD program is a partnership among law enforcement, the state Department of Public Safety and North Memorial Medical Center’s Partnership for Change.

Jim Long, community relations officer for the Plymouth Police Department, said it has had the positive results officials hoped for. “We see POLD as a training opportunity and as a way to build relationships with businesses in the community,” he said. Police and city officials have been able to offer additional training and resources for liquor license holders. 

Plymouth police used a survey last year to track where the most people arrested in alcohol-related incidents consumed their last drink. That pointed to Cowboy Jack’s, which was subsequently put on a three-month sanction period. But Long noted the establishment hasn’t had any issues since then.

Long added that not all problems tied to excessive alcohol consumption happen in licensed establishments. According to the Plymouth survey, in 38 percent of incidents residents were coming from their own home or another home. “There’s a need for community education as a whole,” said Long.

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