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Alcohol

Cassandra Rook, a bartender at The Office Bar and Grille, mixes a drink for a customer in December. The Casper City Council has decided to try to curtail overservice in the city through training rather than by making it illegal.

Casper’s leaders are planning to focus on educational efforts — not punishments — to reduce alcohol-related crimes.

“That's awesome," said Jason Ford, the acting manager of the Fort Saloon N’ Eatery in Casper. "I actually think that's how it should be.”

A new alcohol ordinance, which requires three rounds of voting to take effect, passed its first vote last month. The measure initially would have made it unlawful to serve alcohol to someone who is already clearly intoxicated.

But at Tuesday's meeting — prior to the ordinance's second vote — the Council nixed that provision, replacing it with a statement declaring that all liquor license holders in Casper must have their employees complete an alcohol-serving training program within 90 days of being hired.

Ford said Friday that he believes training programs are very beneficial. The acting manager said he's relieved that the city won’t be targeting servers who are sometimes faced with tricky situations.

“There are times when you get people who come in here and they’re already wasted but you can’t really tell,” he said. “Then I give them one drink and they become very obviously intoxicated. I don’t want to be responsible for other people being irresponsible.”

Under the amended ordinance, liquor license holders who violate the training requirements will be fined $150 for the first offense, $200 for the second, and $250 for the third offense within a given calendar year. A fourth violation, and any thereafter, will result in a $250 fine, as well as a seven day suspension of the liquor license.

The Council decided to do-away with the overserving portion of the ordinance during a work session earlier this month. Multiple council and community members felt that it was unfair to hold servers accountable for another individual becoming too drunk.

“I don’t support putting that liability on bar owners, or a waitress, or a bartender, or a waiter, at all,” Vice Mayor Shawn Johnson previously said. “I think it is a little overreaching.”

Councilman Steven Freel agreed.

“You can’t just hire somebody today and write them a ticket tomorrow (because they didn’t realize a patron was drunk),” he previously said. “… Let’s provide them with the training they need.”

Another portion of the ordinance, which makes it unlawful for the owners or staff members of an establishment that sells alcohol to be intoxicated while working on the premises, was also amended Tuesday to state that the business's owners will be exempt from this rule.

Casper Police Chief Keith McPheeters, who proposed the initial ordinance, has said tighter rules are needed because the overservice of alcohol is a serious problem in Casper.

Under the current system, the Council can’t begin to take disciplinary action until a liquor license holder has reached 125 points within a one-year time frame. Many violations are 25 points, including serving alcohol to minors, selling alcohol outside of the established hours or failing to maintain exits and emergency escapes.

This system is ineffective at preventing alcohol-related crimes, according to the chief. He said fifty-nine percent of people in the city who are booked into jail are intoxicated and almost half of all drivers arrested for DUIs are more than the twice the legal limit.

Matt Galloway, the owner of several bars in Casper and the acting president of the Natrona County Liquor Dealers, said earlier this month that he agrees that overconsumption of alcohol is a serious concern. But he said increasing  educational requirements was the best solution. 

“I don’t think there is a magic bullet (for preventing alcohol-related crimes) but I’ve been a huge advocate from day one that education and training outweigh prosecution,” he said. “I think a lot more can be achieved by educating and training our staff, from the servers and bartenders to the managers and security.”

Galloway also encouraged city officials to promote efforts that encourage individuals to drink responsibly by knowing their limits and arranging for a safe ride home.

The alcohol ordinance, which passed its second vote, is expected to be placed for its final vote next month. 

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Follow city reporter Katie King on twitter @KatieKingCST

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Local Government Reporter

Katie King joined the Star-Tribune in 2017 and primarily covers issues related to local government. She previously worked as a crime reporter in the British Virgin Islands. Originally from Virginia, Katie is a graduate of James Madison University.

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