The Missouri Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control saw more than half of its budget slashed for the coming fiscal year.
The ATC lost more than $1 million from its previous budget due to state cuts. Mike O’Connell with the Department of Public Safety says the ATC will still do its regulatory work with manufacturers and wholesalers. But what will change is the approach to retailers.
“More of that criminal enforcement is going to be done by the local police, local law enforcement; which already has jurisdiction there and is doing a lot of this stuff to begin with,” O’Connell said.
He’s talking about things like undercover operations, where in the past the ATC would assist as an underage person would attempt to buy alcohol or tobacco at stores across the state. O’Connell says those operations almost always relied on federal grant money, which will still be available to the local entities.
“Alcohol and Tobacco Control officers have been doing these checks, doing this program. Just like other local law enforcement, has been using these federal dollars that have to be used on overtime. So now that money is not going away, it’s not being reduced, it’s just going to be utilized by other law enforcement,” O’Connell said.
He says the ATC plans to work with police and sheriff’s departments beforehand, since they won’t be on hand anymore.
“(We plan to) talk with them and share expertise about how to run these undercover compliance checks and how to get the grant money,” O’Connell said.
He says the Department of Public Safety and the ATC have already started consulting with the Missouri Police Chiefs Association, and plan to work with Sheriffs around the state soon. He says so far, local law enforcement has been receptive and understanding of the changes.
“I think that there’s been a trend for more local law enforcement to get involved in these compliance checks because they’re such a good and effective way of monitoring what’s going on, and educating,” O’Connell said.
O’Connell says the ATC will still handle the case afterward, to determine what happens to the license of a retailer caught in the compliance check.
“If there’s a problem at a retailer, what happens to that licenses, is the license revoked, is it suspended, is there a warning? Is there a fine imposed because of some type of violation?” O’Connell said.
O’Connell says the other aspect that will change in regard to retailers is that ATC officers won’t be able to get out around the state on a regular basis.
“There will be less stopping by to explain laws and regulations to them. It’s gonna be done more through the internet, through calls to the field offices or the Jefferson City headquarters. But there will be less of just stopping by and chatting with retailers and asking, ‘How’s everything going?’” O’Connell said.