Impaired Driving Crackdowns

Sales to Intoxicated Persons (SIP)

Nearly every state (47) and the District of Columbia prohibit the sale of alcohol to an obviously intoxicated person. In the 1990s researchers began looking at the amount of over-service at on- and off- premise establishments, and a number of studies since have shown that sales to intoxicated persons occur regularly throughout the country. In 1990, a study in a Michigan county introduced enforcement efforts which included 457 visits to 40 bars/restaurants and resulted in 13 citations and 11 warnings. At the end of the study, the refusal to serve "pseudo-patrons" simulating intoxication rose from 17.5% to 54.3%, indicating enforcement efforts had a positive influence on deterring over-service . In 1997, 25 bars were evaluated in one metropolitan area and found that 62% of pseudo-intoxicated buyers were able to purchase alcohol . In 1999, a study in a large Midwestern metropolitan area examined the compliance rates of sales to pseudo-intoxicated patrons and found that 79% of alcohol establishments served alcohol to patrols who appear obviously intoxicated . In 2001, 231 on-premise establishments were evaluated and 65% sold to obviously intoxicated persons . In 2003, a study of 292 attempts to purchase alcohol, 58% of pseudo-intoxicated persons were served . A study in 2005 showed similar results, with 89% of pseudo-intoxicated buyers able to purchase alcohol at 50 community festivals while a small research project conducted in 2006 found that 89% of pseudo-intoxicated persons were sold alcohol . 

This research shows that sales and service to intoxicated individuals are a significant problem and yet enforcement of SIP laws is not occurring throughout the country. A recent survey of state alcohol law enforcement agencies found that less than 15 state alcohol law enforcement agencies conducted sales to intoxicated persons operations in 2012 .

Law enforcement agencies should be committed to preventing and deterring the sale of alcoholic beverages to intoxicated individuals, particularly those that would be driving a motor vehicle while impaired, potentially resulting in alcohol-related traffic crashes that result in death or serious bodily injury. Law enforcement agencies that decide to conduct undercover SIP enforcement operations to hold licensees accountable for violation of laws that prohibit such sale of alcoholic beverages should have a standard operating procedure in place regarding these types of operations. See Appendix A for a sample SIP standard operating procedure.

If your agency chief or director is not familiar with SIP operations explain the program to them and the necessity of conducting these types of undercover operations. Conducting SIP operations is an important way for law enforcement agencies to fulfill their duties in keeping the public safe. Most investigations can be conducted during normal shifts; SIP operations should not cause a significant fiscal impact. However, if more funds are needed, you may wish to contact your State highway safety office to inquire whether State funds are available. Some States have been successful in securing funds through grants to support SIP operations.

Some agencies "hand pick" the individuals who will conduct SIP operations within their agency. Other agencies train all agents to be able to conduct these types of investigations. Either philosophy of the command staff will work. Below are a few characteristics for the ideal undercover SIP officer. The officer should:

  • Have experience working on a variety of different investigations;
  • Be comfortable working in an undercover capacity
  • Have a professional demeanor and good interviewing techniques;
  • Possess strong report writing skills; and
  • Have experience in testifying at administrative and/or criminal proceedings.

It is important that each officer who conducts undercover SIP operations is trained in the SOP and general undercover techniques. Not every officer has the right skill set to conduct undercover operations, and working effectively undercover is a skill that must be developed sharpened. See Appendix B for a sample powerpoint presentation that provides a significant amount of information about conducting undercover SIP operations. The powerpoint provides important information on how to conduct an undercover operation in a licensed establishment; how to feign alcohol consumption; identifying the signs of obvious intoxication; safety issues for officers and patrons; and report writing. Appendix C provides a list of sample questions that officers may find helpful when interviewing staff, managers or owners of licensed establishments as part of a SIP investigation.

Completing a SIP report should not be any different than completing other agency reports. Follow your department or agency's protocol or format when completing the report. However, if your agency does not have an established protocol or format in completing investigative reports, include the following:

  • Persons Involved: Identify and describe the intoxicated patron, servers, and witnesses, including characteristics that indicated the patron was intoxicated (see Appendix D for a checklist of characteristics);
  • Summary of Report: Give a brief synopsis of the investigation;
  • Attachments: Identify all evidence or exhibits, e.g. sales receipts or establishment surveillance videos;
  • Background: Provide a more detailed description of the visibly impaired patron and the interactions he/she had with the establishments staff and servers and other patrons, e.g., the patron asked for another drink and the server responded by saying "don't you think you've had enough" but when pressed, served the patron another alcoholic beverage;
  • Investigation: Describe specific observations, e.g. the number of alcoholic beverages served to the visibly intoxicated patron and the brands or labels of each drink; outline the timing of your investigation, e.g. who entered the establishment first and if the patron was still there when you left; systematically provide a detailed report on interviews of establishment staff and/or other patrons, breaking down each individual interview separately; describe what was revealed in any surveillance videos or videos or photos taken by other patrons; and other facts uncovered in the investigation; and
  • Conclusion: Wrap up the findings of your investigation in a concise manner.
Per department protocol, submit your report to your supervisors for review. It is recommended that once your supervisor approves your report that the report be filed for all applicable actions; i.e., administrative filing, civil filing, or criminal filing.

It is important that you either set up a separate data collection system to track key data elements of each SIP operation or that you incorporate the key data elements into your existing case management system. This data is not the actual evidence and information collected during the investigation, but rather key information about the the level of effort expended and the outcome of each investigation. Adequate funding to support SIP operations can be accelerated if documented evidence demonstrates the staff and resource demands of these types of investigations on law enforcement agencies, as well as the results of those efforts. Appendix E provides a sample data collection form with key variables that should be documented with each operation.

Building a relationship with reporters can bring long-term benefits in terms of positive press. If you have a Public Information Officer (PIO) in your agency, educate them on SIP operations. If your agency protocol on media matters is directed through the PIO then educate your PIO on how SIP operations serve as a good tool for building trust and confidence with the media. If possible, bring your PIO or local journalists along on a SIP operation.

Working with the media to show the outcomes of a SIP can be a good tool in promoting your agency, showing the positive work your agency is doing to keep the community safe. Another benefit is to educate the public on the laws prohibiting over service in licensed establishments and increasing the awareness the violations of this law will be caught and receive penalties. When working with media, use these guidelines:

  • Follow your department or agency's established protocol in contacting the media or creating press releases on SIP operations (See Appendix F for a sample media event checklist);
  • Write concise press releases and media advisories that include basic facts (See Appendix G for a sample SIP media advisory); and
  • Adhere to your agencies media protocol and, include contact information of the PIO or SIP operation officer on all correspondence with media.
If a media outlet picks up the story they will most likely make personal contact for more details on the investigation and outcomes of those held responsible.