Back in October, a News-Times examination of Columbia County Sheriff's Office statistics covering the past five years revealed that in spite of the rising number of motorists and full-service restaurants in the growing county, the numbers of arrests for drunken driving have fallen each year.
At the time, Sheriff's Office spokesman Capt. Steve Morris credited the decline to better public awareness, and said motorists were "getting the message."
Apparently, the county's businesses are getting the message, too.
Preemptively making sure stores that sell alcohol obey the law, the sheriff's office periodically sends out undercover operatives to attempt to purchase alcohol at random businesses.
The operatives don't use fake identification. If the clerks ask them to show ID, the would-be buyers show an ID that reveals their age, Morris said. In the most recent sting on Nov. 17, just one store of six was cited for selling alcohol to a minor after failing to ask for that identification.
In all, Morris says, the sheriff's office has conducted such stings 30 times this year - and in all that time, just three stores have sold alcohol to the underage operative. The Circle K, on Washington Road at the Woodbridge Subdivision, was the most recent business cited. Previously this year, Athens Restaurant and Nick's Bar on Bobby Jones Expressway, and the Bi-Lo on Furys Ferry Road, were the only other county businesses ticketed for selling alcohol to minors.
Considering that all it takes to get cited is a screw-up by one clerk, it's a pretty good record when 90 percent of the county's businesses follow the rules.
"With a goal of eliminating the sale of alcohol to the youth in our community, Sheriff Clay Whittle will continue to conduct these operations hoping that local businesses will realize they might be selling to a decoy," Morris says in an e-mailed comment.
Businesses caught in such stings often fire the clerks who commit the underage sale, and the business itself generally is fined on first offense and placed on probation. That gives the businesses and their employees a personal, pocketbook motive for obeying the law.
Keeping alcohol out of the hands of minors gives the rest of the community plenty of reasons to appreciate the sheriff's office efforts - and reason to applaud all the businesses that do their part.
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