A required St. Joseph class to obtain a license to sell alcohol soon will be offered online in order to be more convenient and safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A program designed to inform cashiers and servers about safe alcohol sales and required for server licenses soon will be offered online in St. Joseph.

Around 13 years ago, the St. Joseph Police Department decided to test whether or not it was easy for local children to obtain alcohol from stores in the city, and found a major issue with compliance.

“In 2007 the St. Joseph Police Department actually did, for the first time, what they call compliance checks, where we sent underage kids into the stores to see what happened,” Sgt. Larry Stobbs said. “Back when we did that, over half the businesses here in town sold alcohol to the kids that went in.”

Police records show that 54% of those businesses sold to children who were 18 to 19 years old, but looked like they were 16 to 17, according to descriptions given by citizens during a verification process.

“They weren’t getting proper training from their employers and that really provided an easy access for kids to buy alcohol because they weren’t being carded,” Stobbs said.

After a period of voluntary classes and multiple meetings with public comment, the city eventually decided to require a server license for anyone selling alcohol, which would involve taking a course provided by the SJPD.

Those classes inform sellers and servers on how to identify a potential minor, how to ask for ID and how not to over-serve, among other things.

The classes seem to have had a major effect. According to police data, when the program began in 2009, there were 161 citations given for minors in possession of alcohol. There also were 249 violations of providing alcohol to a minor.

Last year, there were only 11 minor-in-possession citations and 11 violations of providing alcohol to minor issued. The compliance failure rate last year was below 5%.

Previously, the rule required servers to apply for a server license within five days of beginning employment, and then they would be issued a temporary license that is good for 60 days. Within those 60 days, the employee would have to attend the course in person at the police station.

This week, the City Council approved a change that will only require that a license is obtained within 30 days of employment, and allows the course to be taken online.

“We sat down and basically converted the training program we have into an online course,” Stobbs said. “We actually found, it was a hindsight thing after looking at it, it’s probably a better product for the customers out there because instead of coming down here for one of the free classes we do every month, you can literally sit at home on your computer, you can read the training material, there’s a very brief test at the end of that you pay your $15 license fee and the city will mail your license to you.”

He said St. Joseph’s program is relatively unique in that it requires courses and the license is much more affordable. The only comparable system in the state is in Branson, Missouri.

Stobbs believes the success of the courses and the licensing program is a reflection of how hard the public was willing to work to fix an issue in the community.

“We don’t really, normally, have a way to pat the public on the back,” he said. “I normally do that in the face-to-face classes. I tell the people who attend ‘the reasons our numbers are down is because of the good work you’re doing, and not necessarily what my officers have done, because we’re doing the same work we’ve always done.’”

The city is working to get links up on the city of St. Joseph’s website and the St. Joseph Police Department’s website that will allow servers and employees to sign up for online courses.

Brendan Welch can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPWelch.