Underage patrons at The Hawk – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
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Underage patrons at The Hawk

The Kansas City Star

Alcohol violations threaten longtime KU student hangout

By David Klepper

The Hawk has served beer to University of Kansas students since 1919, but now allegations that employees served underage patrons could cost it its alcohol license.

The bar at 1340 Ohio has been cited 18 times in the past three years for serving alcohol to those who cannot legally consume it. The state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control conducted a hearing this week and dropped seven of the 18 citations.

But it’s now up to the division’s director to decide whether the bar should lose its license because of the remaining violations.

Fines of $1,000 per violation or a temporary suspension are also possibilities.

The owners of the bar say they do everything they can to prevent underage drinking.

The staff at the door is trained to spot fake IDs, there’s a bank of video monitors watching patrons, and a digital camera photographs the ID of everyone who walks in the door. But when patrons are college students determined to drink, armed with the latest in fake IDs, co-owner Tom Devlin said, finding the fakes is a losing battle.

“We’re constantly fighting them,” he said. “They try to get in, we try to find the fakes, and they try to beat us.”

Tom Groneman, the director of the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control division, wouldn’t comment on the case but said bar owners can argue that fake IDs were so convincing that their employees couldn’t tell the difference.

The division relies on local police departments and its own agents to check compliance at bars.

Many complaints never turn into citations, Groneman said, and many citations never result in the closure of a business. He said there’s no specific timeline for his decision.

The director of a state association of bars said the state’s laws unfairly blame businesses for the crimes of their patrons. In Kansas, it doesn’t matter whether a bar employee willingly serves a minor or not; the bar is to blame.

“Five hundred people walk in, some of them with fake IDs, and it’s your job to find them,” said Phil Bradley, executive director of the Kansas Licensed Beverage Association. “How many would you catch?”

Targeting fake IDs is a laudable goal, according to David Anderson, a health professor at George Mason University who studies drinking on college campuses.

But he said minors in search of alcohol will find it – whether it’s in a bar, at a fraternity party or in a basement.

“Will checking ID make a difference? Yes. Is it enough? No,” Anderson said. “The bottom line is that the responsibility to deal with underage drinking is a shared responsibility of law enforcement, lawmakers, parents, educators and the minors as well.”

Wesley Perkins, a sociologist at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, recently published a large study of college drinking. His team surveyed 76,000 people at 130 campuses across the country.

He found that alcohol consumption hasn’t changed much since it peaked in the last half of the ’70s. Most underage college drinkers get alcohol from friends or family members. He said some parents send conflicting messages by buying their children beer even though it’s against the law.

Faced with that kind of message from peers and families, he said, it’s not surprising that many students see little problem in using fake IDs.

Devlin said it’s unfair his business is being targeted, because college students go to great lengths to manufacture fake IDs.

At The Hawk, video cameras monitor and record every person who enters. A photo of each ID is digitally recorded. Those records will be used in defending the bar against the citations, he said.

He disputed the idea that college bars rely on underage drinking for profit.

He said whatever business his bar gets from underage patrons isn’t worth the cost of hiring trained staff to deal with a younger crowd and the legal hassles from citations.

“I have police coming in sometimes two or three times a night,” he said. “I’ve spent $50,000 on cameras and a digital recorder. This is my livelihood, and I take it seriously.”

Students walking by The Hawk on their way to and from classes Thursday said that many students do use fake IDs to get into bars, but that making it harder to get into bars would do little to curb underage drinking.

“If you took away all the fake IDs, it wouldn’t stop people who want to drink,” said Josh Spain, a junior from Overland Park. “They’ll find a way.”