VAIL, Colorado - Vail Police Cmdr. Craig Bettis told about 50 bar and restaurant owners Wednesday that state liquor enforcement isn't targeting Vail per se, but because the town leads the state in recent violations, the state is obviously paying attention.
"What I was told by (the state) right now is that we are the highest in the state of Colorado, so that's not a very good image for Vail. ... ," Bettis said. "Are they looking at us? They kind of have to."
According to data from the Department of Revenue's Liquor and Tobacco Enforcement Division, Eagle County had 28 state liquor violations, 20 of which were in the town of Vail, between Oct. 16, 2012, and March 14, 2013.
Bettis and Tammy Nagel, the administrative assistant to both the Vail town manager and Vail town assistant manager, as well as the town's liquor board, hosted the meeting for members of Vail's Safe Bar Campaign, which promotes responsible behavior to bar merchants and patrons. While Bettis answered questions for local merchants, he also reiterated that the state liquor enforcement has every right to conduct compliance checks.
In February alone, state enforcement hit 22 Vail establishments that serve alcohol, five of which received violations. The state hit 36 establishments in Aspen between October and now, all of which were conducted in February, citing four establishments there for violations. There were no enforcement checks listed for Summit County during that time frame - a point one restaurant owner said seems like a curious coincidence, referring to the fact that fines are based on an average of an establishment's revenues, which would likely be higher in towns like Vail and Aspen.
Bettis said the Vail Police Department is sometimes aware of the checks and sometimes not. Occasionally, the local police do provide support to the enforcement teams should conflicts arise during the checks, he said.
Bettis also told merchant owners the state has beefed up its enforcement. Staff levels are higher and an increase in the compliance checks, referred to among bar owners as "sting operations," is likely to continue.
"What I'm here to tell you is that their schedule and their manpower is increasing," Bettis said.
The state expects to hit the same towns three to four times per year, hitting roughly 15 to 20 establishments each time. Since Vail has 92 liquor licensees, that means it's reasonable to expect that every establishment is likely to get hit at least once, Bettis said.
With that in mind, Bettis told everyone in the room to simply do what's required by law: Check IDs.
"The ownership falls on you and whether you're doing your job," he said.
One Lionshead bar manager at the meeting asked other bar and restaurant owners there whether getting caught in a sting operation while serving alcohol to a minor is really that bad.
He pointed out that it beats the alternative such as facing a mother who's in tears because her underage son died in an accident while driving drunk. In that situation, an owner could lose his or her entire business and livelihood, on top of the moral anguish that would be felt.
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.