CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Each year, in partnership with Chesterfield County Police Department (CCPD), Chesterfield Substance Abuse Free Environment (SAFE) uses its fall and spring alcohol compliance checks to crack down on stores making illicit sales to people under the legal drinking age of 21.

While fall 2022’s round of compliance checks saw a notably high volume of businesses that sell alcohol to underage individuals — therefore, failing the tests — this past spring, the involved departments noted the exact opposite phenomenon. More businesses followed the law than years past.

In spring 2023, CCPD and Chesterfield SAFE sent underage individuals to 100 businesses. Only 12% of businesses failed the compliance checks, which is about a 10% decrease from the 22% of those that failed in the previous fall.

Chesterfield County Police Lieutenant Jay Henderson broke down the role that compliance checks play in preserving a safe community for young people.

“It prevents the sale of alcohol to people under 21 and possibly kids that are in high school,” Henderson said. “That’s the big key there, is getting alcohol out of their hands.”

According to data collected by Chesterfield SAFE, it is not uncommon for compliance checks to trend more optimistically in the spring rounds rather than fall rounds.

Henderson noted these checks largely serve educational purposes. While punishments for failing compliance checks can vary, violations fall under a Class 1 Misdemeanor, meaning a judge ultimately determines penalties. Traditionally, legal repercussions are presented in the form of fines and/ or mandated I.D. verification training from Virginia ABC.

“The vendors, the store owners, can go to ABC training and get additional training on how to check ID’s, stuff like that,” Henderson noted.

Chesterfield SAFE examined the catalyst for the inflated deviation between fall 2022’s non-compliance rate (22%) and that of spring 2023 (12%). They suspect the uncharacteristically wide gap in time between Spring 2021 and Fall 2022’s checks, as well as residual impacts from COVID-19, played a role in the increase.

The organization reiterated the importance of consistent compliance checks to maintain the pressure placed on businesses that sell alcohol. Officials explained how something as simple as checking an I.D. and preventing alcohol from ending up in the hands of underage people can save lives.

“That can lead to the alcohol poisonings,” Henderson explained. “That can lead to DUI’s, crashes, and deaths of these kids on highways.”