SIKESTON -- More than 1,600 individuals were arrested from July to December by agents of the Missouri Division of Liquor Control compared to the same time in 2001, when 747 arrests were made.
Liquor Control Division 5 Supervisor Don Pickard said Southeast Missouri followed similar trends of the 118 percent increase of arrests. District 5 covers 19 counties in Southeast Missouri.
"We have made 79 liquor-related arrests, 55 liquor-related violations," said District 5 Supervisor Don Pickard. "A violation is against a liquor establishment and an arrest is a minor possession. In a minor possession, we also issue clerks tickets," he explained.
Last year District 5 only had 71 violations for the entire fiscal year. They've also had 15 tobacco arrests so far this year, compared to five arrests last year.
"We are continuously examining whether the number of violations is increasing or whether the agents are working more strategically and efficiently," State Supervisor Keith Fuller said in a recent statement.
Out of 1,632 arrests in the state, 947 citations were issued to minors in possession of alcohol; underage possession of tobacco tickets totaled 303; and unauthorized uses of identification tickets numbered 176, according to the Missouri Division Liquor Control.
Fuller also said enforcement is only one part of the solution to underage drinking. Liquor Control is working in conjunction with other proactive groups to fully address the issue.
Pickard agreed, stating that the district works with several local law enforcement agencies, especially when drugs are involved.
Last month, District 5 worked with Southeast Missouri State University's Department of Public Safety to bust a private party. Two undercover agents attended the party and learned party goers were buying beer for $5 and shots for $1. The hosts were charged with at least one felony of selling liquor without a license, plus there were some minors in attendance, Pickard said.
"The undercover agents observed the surroundings at the party and notified the other proactive groups watching. Then they busted the party," Pickard said.
Due to more population and college students in Cape Girardeau County, they tend to see more arrests and violations than any county in the district, Pickard noted.
The Division of Liquor Controls' responsibilities are to enforce the liquor control laws. Within the Missouri Division of Liquor Control, two types of investigations are conducted, noted State Chief of Enforcement Steve Shimmens.
"One investigation is of violations that include establishments holding a liquor license and selling to minors. The other is an investigation of minors who are attempting to purchase liquor," Shimmens said.
For instance, if the district receives complaints on a bar, they'll send an undercover agent out to sit there for whatever time it takes until illegal activity occurs, Pickard explained.
Pickard said investigations normally take longer than one day. "We spend at least three to five times in one location. It's kind of like a hit and miss. Of course weather is a factor. If it snows or rains, it makes a big difference because people tend to stay home during those times," he added.
Pickard recalled another recent Liquor Control activity. In December, District 5, along with the Cape Girardeau Police Department, conducted a sting operation to determine if liquor stores sold to minors.
"Of the 10 establishments we tested, seven sold to our minor without even carding her -- and she was 19 years old," Pickard said.
In New Madrid, Mississippi, Scott and Stoddard counties, a combined total of 29 liquor arrests and 13 liquor violations were made from July through December 2002.
"Numbers indicate minors are drinking more, but we really don't know that for a fact," Shimmens said. "We're not really sure why there's such a big increase."
More manpower could be an answer to the increased arrests and violations, Pickard pointed out.
"Two years ago we received one transfer agent and three new agents," Pickard said. "And it takes a new liquor agent about two years to get broken in and five years before they actually go out on their own. So that could be a reason, but at this point, we really don't know."