It’s been almost two years since grocery stores in Washington started selling liquor. When voters passed Initiative 1183, opponents worried the privatization of alcohol would make it more accessible to kids. Now, almost two years after they started selling, the KHQ Crime Trackers went on patrol with the Washington State Liquor Control Board to see if Spokane grocery stores are selling their liquor to people under the age of 21.
The LCB uses underage investigative aids in their compliance checks. 18-year-old Ashley Belknap has been working with the LCB since she was 14, conducting tobacco compliance checks then. Now, she tries to buy alcohol from retailers when she goes undercover. Ashley is required to follow a protocol when she goes into a store. The LCB says she’s allowed to lie and say she is 21-years-old. However, she must give store clerks her real birth date and she provides her real driver’s license when they ask for her identification. The LCB says the setup allows retailers every chance to succeed and turn the underage buyer away. The LCB says that educating businesses that sell alcohol is just as important as checking-in on them to make sure they’re following the law.
The Crime Trackers and the LCB checked in on five Spokane grocery stores. The operation involves two vehicles. Ashley rides with an undercover LCB officer and Sergeant Jeremy Wissing follows. Wissing watches from the parking lot as Ashley enters the store and the undercover officer trails behind. The undercover officer is there to witness the attempted purchase and step in if a clerk becomes aggressive or upset with the underage buyer. If Ashley makes a purchase, Sergeant Wissing then moves in to issue the citation.
The LCB conducted compliance checks at Rosauers and Rite Aid in Downtown Spokane, Super 1 Foods and Trader Joes on the South Hill and the Safeway near the Gonzaga University campus on Hamilton. Each of the store clerks asked Ashley for identification and turned her away when they saw she is not of legal age to buy alcohol.
Ashley tells the Crime Trackers that the sale usually depends on the clerk behind the counter. She says she is more likely to make a purchase at a convenience store where the clerk is a young man. The LCB and Ashley end their day with two stops at Spokane convenience stores and in both of cases, the clerk sold alcohol to Ashley.
The LCB says stores have a 90% pass rate in compliance checks with the LCB. The undercover agent told KHQ that even one sale is one too many. He says he used to work as a traffic sergeant in California and has had to deliver 15 death notices to parents of children killed in crashes that often involved alcohol. He says this work by the LCB helps keep kids safe and away from the dangers of alcohol.