EL MONTE — This city has become the second in the San Gabriel Valley to join a state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control program in which police departments team up with the ABC in a high-visibility program to crack down on liquor law violations.
El Monte, with 185 stores and restaurants that sell alcoholic beverages, began the program Friday. Police Chief Wayne Clayton said the city is interested in toughening the enforcement of liquor laws. He said the City Council recently passed an ordinance requiring stores where alcoholic beverages are sold to post notices that there can be no open containers of alcohol around the premises, including parking lots.
In El Monte, as well as Baldwin Park and three other Southern California cities involved in the program, state agents pair with police officers in specially marked cars. The teams, which operate at staggered times, visit liquor licensees to secure their help in the enforcement program.
Officers talk to license holders about such laws as those prohibiting sale of liquor to minors or to obviously intoxicated persons and the bans on loitering and on drinking in public. But ABC Director Jay Stroh said, "If that doesn't work, we can switch to the hard-nosed approach and do whatever is necessary to correct a situation. If prevention and cooperation don't work, we can go undercover."
In Baldwin Park, where there are 74 restaurants and stores that sell intoxicating beverages, the program that began last August is working well, according to Capt. Carmine Lanza.
"We have had to take very little enforcement action," he said. "In short order, the problem businesses were brought into compliance when they knew we meant business."
Stroh said, "We are developing a relationship with law enforcement agencies and they know what they can do on a local basis. They can issue citations but our agency has to follow through on suspending or revoking a liquor license. Now the officers know we will act."
Agency Gained New Muscle
The agency has also gained new enforcement muscle through recent legislation giving it injunctive power to close establishments that continue to violate state liquor laws. Previously, violators could stay in business for months or even years while their cases went through the courts.
The program began in Gardena last May. In addition to Baldwin Park and El Monte, it is operating in Glendale and Tustin. A number of other Southern California cities--Downey, Signal Hill, South Gate, Brea, Lynwood and Huntington Park--are on the waiting list.
"We have no figures and I can't say we are seeing a drop in sales to minors," Stroh said. "We are hitting the places where the kids go, such as convenience centers, so the licensees are playing closer attention. Those places are either more discreet or they are in compliance. But we don't have as many complaints from the public."