Bars’ entry age comes with responsibility

Most students who choose to experience campus nightlife in their minor years have probably seen some version of this text before:

“Be careful, they’re checking the bars tonight.”

This is just a formality that comes with being a county that allows people under the age of 21 into a bar.

“We have more underage liquor consumption in Champaign than anywhere else within (Illinois State Police) District 10, as a whole,” Master Sgt. Shad Edwards of the Illinois State Police said.

“Any night of the week, any weekend, we can go into any of the liquor establishments in Champaign that allow under-21-year-olds in, and most all the time, we will find (minors) inside consuming alcohol. There’s a huge problem in the Champaign area with underage consumption.”

Edwards said currently, underage drinking tickets in Champaign are only reported to the liquor commissioner, Mayor Don Gerard, but recently, there have been conversations about whether the quantity of violations occurring should be reported to the state.

“Any college student knows it’s pretty easy to get rid of the ‘U’ that’s written on your hand and get a wristband from somebody else, or get a buddy to buy a drink for you and bring it back to your table at any under-21 bar in Champaign. And that’s what happens,” Edwards said.

For Operation Campus/Tap, a grant-funded program in Illinois specifically targeted toward stopping underage drinking at campuses in Illinois, Champaign turns out the most arrests in the state, according to Edwards. He also said as far as manpower for Operation Campus/Tap, Champaign “far out-does any campus area in the state.”

According to Sgt. Joe Ketchem of the Champaign Police Department, since January they have done eight bar checks and four “street sweeps” resulting in a total of 413 arrests or citations. For underage drinking, 175 20-year-olds, 112 19-year-olds and 21 18-year-olds were cited. Three people were arrested for giving a minor a drink in a bar, as well as nine others for various violations, which includes a bar employee announcing that the police are present. A total of 24 fake ID’s were seized, which does not include the ones that bars take.

Ketchem said when it comes to bar enforcement, the selection of the bars that they are going to check is usually random. Each bar has a “threshold” of arrests based on their occupancy. For example, The Clybourne in Champaign has a threshold of 10 arrests, so if more than 10 people are arrested from The Clybourne in a night, it could be fined by the city. Ketchem said if there is a pattern of a bar breaking their threshold more consistently than others, they tend to check that bar more.

Toward the beginning of May, Geovanti’s Bar and Grill in Champaign had its liquor license suspended for one year due to multiple violations over the past year. Once in February and once during Unofficial in March, an employee was caught selling alcohol to a minor. Ketchem said the bust on Unoffcial was done with a covert operation, which is usually a minor working with the police to work off a ticket. The minor will go into a bar or liquor store with nothing but their normal driver’s license and ask to be served. If they are served, the employee is cited for selling alcohol to a minor. A Geovanti’s employee was cited for this four times over the past two years, resulting in their suspension. The Daily Illini attempted to contact Geovanti’s for a statement, but it declined to comment.

“It’s been shown that if we have a presence in the bars, and we enforce the alcohol laws and rules, that the crime rate does tend to go down in the campus area,” Ketchem said. “If you were to find a cause for a lot of our crime on campus, you would probably start with alcohol.”

He added that it’s typically not the people who are of age causing problems and committing crimes. Usually, it is the underage drinkers who “cannot hold their liquor” who seem to be more problematic than others, he said.

Ketchem also said that over the years, the idea of making the entry age 21, like everywhere else, has been thrown around, but there has never been a definitive voice behind it. As long as the age to gain entry stays at 19, there will be a bar enforcement effort to make sure there is compliance with the laws that have been set.

Gerard believes that in the end, it is up to the individual whether they will comply with the law.

“From my personal experience … I grew up here, I worked at a night club, I played in a rock band, I’ve been a bartender, I’ve been a doorman, and I am of the mind that when kids go away to college, that they’re adults, they should take responsibility for themselves,” Gerard said. “And then if somebody has a business where they’re selling alcohol, that person should take responsibility for their business as well. You know, you can be 19 and 20 and go into a bar, you can meet a girl or a guy, or dance, or listen to the DJ, or go see a band, and I think all of those things are great. It really comes down to personal responsibility for those who try to drink or those who serve the drinks, or allow it to happen.”

Gerard believes that in the big picture, raising the bar entry age would not keep minors from underage drinking. He said realistically, “we’re not going to solve anything” by raising the age to 21.

He added that the numbers from Operation Campus/Tap are kind of skewed because the University has over 30,000 undergraduate students, as well as Parkland College and all of the locals who live around campus. He also said since he became mayor, he has been impressed with the way bars in the city have dealt with compliance issues. He said the bars have “stepped it up” and done a lot better job with compliance, and the bars that have been especially bad at it are going out of business.

“It kind of works itself out at the end of the day,” Gerard said.