Liquor businesses learn how to spot underage drinkers

Bar, restaurant and liquor store owners from the York Road corridor gathered before their establishments opened for business Wednesday morning to learn how to better combat a late-night scourge in the area — fake IDs and underage drinking.

"The idea today is to educate you so that you have a better-educated staff, so we don't have to do enforcement," Baltimore County Liquor Board Chief Administrator Mike Mohler told the group. "We don't want to do enforcement. We want to work with you."

The seminar, hosted by the county's Liquor Board and Department of Health and held at the Sheppard Pratt Conference Center in Towson, brought together more than 200 representatives from 109 businesses for a presentation by Marty Johnson, a former Howard County liquor inspector and fake ID expert who works for Louisiana State University's Academy of Counter-Terrorist Education on behalf of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Much of the presentation focused on the subject of underage drinkers, who are prevalent in the Towson area because of the presence of many local colleges. Mohler said that each year, around 25 bars across the county are brought before the Liquor Board for serving minors.

Johnson explained the different types of false identification users, including terrorists, identity thieves, drivers with suspended licenses and criminals. He also told of the three different types of fake IDs: a genuine ID that has been altered; a genuine ID used by someone else; and a totally fictitious ID.

"The whole world uses fake IDs," Johnson said. "Your world is the young and thirsty."

Among the totally fictitious IDs are non-governmental IDs and international driver's licenses, of which Johnson had a stack of examples. He urged the business owners and their employees to use the updated driver's license guide that was distributed at the event to determine the viability of an indentification card.

As a measure to determine an ID's viability, Johnson advised using as reference points, the tops and bottoms of the ID holder's ears to see whether the facial features that fall between those reference points match the ones on the ID.

"A lot of fake IDs, you can tell," Johnson said. "If you have a magnifier, a UV light and all that stuff, you're going to be able to tell." He also urged bars to have a barcode scanner to reveal fake IDs.

But, Johnson said, really the best tool to fight underage drinking are the keen eyes and good judgment on the part of the business's employees.

Johnson also spoke in-depth on state-issued drivers licenses. He outlined recent changes to licenses in Washington, D.C. and Virgina which could be confusing to bar and business owners.

Many of the business owners found the seminar to be helpful.

"I think it was informative," Scott Schulte, of Towne Tavern & Spirits in Cockeysville, said. "Quite honestly, nobody wants to get in a jam down the road. You can tell by the seminar that fake IDs are getting pretty good. Nobody wants that kind of trouble."

Brian Recher, whose family owns the Towson Tavern, Rec Room and Torrent Lounge in Towson, also recognized the program's benefits.

"Anytime you can learn something more to protect your business, it's always good," he said.

Earlier in the presentation, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz thanked those in attendance for taking responsibility to help stem underage drinking. But he added a stern word for those who would not do so.

"If you have to do dollar shooter nights, it's time to sell the business," Kamenetz said. "It really is, and frankly, we're not going to tolerate it. You've worked hard to maintain your business and your license, but it's not the message that we want out there.

"If you've got to rely on that market, you're in the wrong county," the county executive said. "If you're not responsible, we're not going to be supportive."

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