Over the last two months, one-third of local retailers surveyed were willing to sell off-premises alcohol without verifying the buyer’s age with proper ID, according to results of an alcohol compliance survey conducted by the Strong Families Great Youth Coalition (SFGYC)
The survey, which included 47retailers in Harrisonburg and 43 in Rockingham County, concluded that there were more willing retailers in the city (31.9%) than in the county (27.9%).
The SFGYC focuses on reducing adolescent substance abuse and the related public health and safety issues. The group got the idea for conducting the compliance survey from a guide prepared by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, according to Erica Rollins, Health Education and Awareness Coordinator for Sentara RMH Community Health and a SFGYC coordinator.
Originally developed to support an Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention program, the guide is now a nationally-recognized tool to combat underage drinking, Rollins noted. She added that the guide describes an array of flexible options that allow the process to be adapted to local situations.
The project was conducted as a collaboration between the SFGYC, the Harrisonburg Police Department and the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office. “Buyers” who were older than 21 but looked younger were recruited and trained on how to record important observations, use scripted lines, and ensure personal safety while conducting the survey. The “buyers” entered retail establishments that sell off-premises alcohol and attempted to purchase it.
“The buyers were reassured that their purpose was not to trick retailers, but rather, to try to gauge their willingness to sell alcohol without verifying age with a proper ID,” Rollins said.
Retailers involved in the survey recently learned their results by mail and were encouraged to discuss them with staff while helping them learn about other key strategies for preventing illegal alcohol sales.