University of Colorado at Boulder students and minors who try to enter bars using fake IDs are risking capture by undercover officers and putting local establishments in jeopardy, bar owners and police said.
Cops In Shops is a national cooperative effort to catch fake ID holders, conducted by local police departments and staffs at participating bars. Police in more than 40 states use the program, including the Boulder Police Department.
Instead of immediately confiscating fake IDs and sending minors away, participating bars will allow them to enter. At the same time, doormen will covertly signal undercover officers and bar managers. The officers then approach the suspect, remove the suspect from the bar and issue a ticket or make an arrest.
Boulder Police Commander Molly Bernard said Cops In Shops has been successfully catching fake ID carriers since the program began last spring. The program is designed to make people realize that it is illegal to have a fake ID, and there are repercussions, she said.
"Before Cops In Shops, it was up to bar door-people to confiscate fake IDs. Even if they were able to catch the fakes, kids could just go get another fake ID, and there were no consequences," Bernard said.
Municipal penalties for fake IDs run up to $1,000 and 90 days in jail. State laws allow for up to one year of jail time. Prosecutors said they use a suspect's background and any prior offenses as a guide for pursuing an appropriate sentence.
If a bar is caught selling alcohol to a minor, there are consequences for the business and the employee, according to Boulder Deputy City Clerk Sonya Oster, who administers and manages local liquor licenses.
"The individual who sold the alcohol to the minor can face fines of $250 to $1,000. Also, the establishment could receive a license violation penalty - a first-time offender would lose the right to sell alcohol for five days, followed by a year of probation," she said.
Oster said Cops In Shops is a great program because good fake IDs can get clubs in trouble even if they are diligently trying to keep minors out. "In my opinion, the program is getting to the root of the problem by catching the kids with the fake IDs," she said.
Beth Smith, owner of La Iguana, said many people believe the use of fake IDs is a victimless crime.
"Most people assume that using a fake ID is a rite of passage," Smith said. "Nobody seems to realize the horrifying consequences for retailers. That's why we're participating in the Cops In Shops program. We're trying to put the responsibility and consequences back on the individual using the fake ID."
Smith and Foundry general manager Matt Byrne agreed that liquor licenses are the single most valuable asset to an establishment. Thousands of dollars of revenue can be lost during a license suspension.
"If the Foundry was closed down for five days, we would lose more than $30,000," Byrne said. "People think they're doing a favor for their underage friends by trying to sneak them in. In reality, they're just putting their favorite bar in jeopardy."
Byrne said Cops In Shops officers are very effective at the Foundry because they blend right in with the bar patrons. "People should know that officers could be in the Foundry at any time. They catch people with fake IDs and issue tickets."
For more information about drinking laws in Colorado, visit CU-Boulder's A Matter Of Degree Web site, http://www.Colorado.EDU/alcohol/students/laws.html.