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Bartenders alert: KC police to ask DUI arrestees, ‘Where were you drinking?’

Police in Kansas City are now tracking where suspected drunken drivers had their last drink in an attempt to find if bars and restaurants are over-serving alcohol.
Police in Kansas City are now tracking where suspected drunken drivers had their last drink in an attempt to find if bars and restaurants are over-serving alcohol. The Associated Press

The intoxicated driver staring foggy-eyed at a Kansas City police officer may not be the only one in trouble.

At traffic stops where drunken driving is suspected or at DUI checkpoints, Kansas City police this week began asking drivers, quite specifically, “Where were you drinking?”

The purpose is to help the city identify establishments that are over-serving alcohol. Restaurants and taverns are hereby “clearly put on notice,” said Jim Ready, Kansas City’s manager of Regulated Industries Division.

“It’s good to have the DUI checkpoints, but that’s not really stopping the problem,” Ready said. “If it’s originating in bars, we need to go back and take action against it.”

By city ordinance, any business selling alcoholic beverages cannot sell alcohol “to a habitual drunkard, or to any person who is intoxicated or who is actually or apparently under the influence of alcoholic beverage.”

At the city’s request to help bars and restaurants abide by that ordinance, said Kansas City Police Maj. Shawn Wadle, the police will include what people tell them about their last drink in arrest reports.

When a concern does arise, the city will visit an establishment first and have a conversation that would essentially serve as a warning, Ready said.

He sees this more as an opportunity to work together with the restaurants and bars to curb dangerous drinking. The city would not take any action to suspend liquor licenses or issue fines unless there were repeated instances that prompted further investigation by the city.

“We’re not doing this to be ‘the mean city,’ ” Ready said. “The whole idea is that DUI fatalities are for real.”

Mike Garozzo, president of the Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association, said he needed to know more before he could discuss the city’s plan.

“It’s a brand-new deal,” Garozzo said. “We have to see what it exactly entails.”

Several municipalities in Minnesota have cooperated in its Place of Last Drink program, now involving 40 law enforcement agencies since it started with nine in 2014, said Osseo, Minn., Police Chief Shane Mikkelson.

Iowa agencies are now starting their own Place of Last Drink programs, which got Kansas City’s attention.

Minnesota created a shared database that now has more than 7,000 entries of alcohol-related encounters with police, with information on where drinks were consumed.

While there has been at least one bar — in Plymouth, Minn.— that had action taken against its license, the information has mostly been used to warn and advise bars and restaurants, Mikkelson said.

“Most of the owners of these establishments want to be good citizens,” he said. “They don’t always have a good idea of what’s happening in their establishments. They’ve tried to have these conversations because (over-serving) is not good for them either.”

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