Bars, restaurants and package stores usually get a warning or a small fine after selling alcohol to a minor, according to a review of 2007 statistics.
Across the South Shore, police departments and state authorities are devoting considerable time and resources to nab bars and package stores that sell alcohol to minors.
But more often than not, the offending establishments get off with a warning or a minimal fine.
According to data collected from the nine South Shore towns that conducted stings in 2007, local police officers and investigators from the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission sent minors on 450 undercover missions, looking to buy alcohol from bars and liquor stores.
Fifty local establishments were cited for selling to the undercover teenagers who were not asked for identification or who provided their actual underage ID.
But of the 50 violators, only 19 had their licenses suspended for serving alcohol to a minor.
The inconsistent, and sometimes lenient penalties, send offending businesses the wrong message, said Barbara Harrington, the state executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
“Fifty violations probably should have resulted in 50 penalties,” Harrington said. “They’ve got the money to buy that expensive license. They should certainly remember to check IDs.”
Hingham, Quincy and Marshfield issued warnings to all of its first-time offenders. All 10 offending Scituate establishments were warned, but not until a hearing 2 months after they were caught selling alcohol to minors.
At the February 13 hearing, Scituate selectmen Chairman Shawn Harris said his board issued warnings because they understand that clerks and bartenders have a “difficult job.”
Scituate selectmen did suspend the liquor license of T.K.O. Malley’s Harborfront Sports Cafe for three days last summer, but only after the bar over-served Ryan Fay, a 21-year-old Scituate resident, who died in a car crash minutes after he left the Front Street locale.
In the stings operated by the ABCC, 10 restaurants and stores were caught selling alcohol to a minor, then allowed to pay a fine in lieu of suspension.
Of those 10, six were in Hanover, where the highest penalty was $788 instead of a 4-day suspension.
That figure represents 50 percent of the restaurant’s gross profit from alcohol sales, over a two-day period. The restaurant would face an additional two-day penalty if it is caught again.
Daniel Pallotta, a Hanover selectman, said the state’s system of fines is shameful.
“To me, it stinks of a revenue generator for the state of Massachusetts,” Pallotta said.
Milton, Plymouth and Canton, meanwhile, have stopped their compliance checks in recent years due to budget cuts.
Rockland, which had 7 violations, let two package stores off with a warning, after police vouched for their good behavior. The other five had their license to sell alcohol suspended.
Of the nine South Shore towns polled, Hull was the only one to suspend all nine establishments that served alcohol to minors.
Harrington said infrequent compliance checks and inconsistent penalties make it easy on businesses that sell alcohol to minors.
When kids find a place that will sell them alcohol, they all go there, Harrington said.
“They work the system that the adults are supposed to be managing,” she said. “They work it to get alcohol, and it eventually hurts them.”
Andrew Lightman may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.