Those selling alcohol to minors can be TRACEd

ABC launches new webapp for law enforcement to report critical incidents involving underage drinking

By Reggie Ellis

SACRAMENTO– A program developed by an Exeter mother 16 years ago is finding new ways to track down those who sell alcohol to minors throughout the state.

In February, the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) launched a new app that will help California law enforcement agencies handle critical incidents involving minors and alcohol more efficiently through ABC’s Target Responsibility for Alcohol Connected Emergencies (TRACE) program. The new app was developed by students at Sacramento State University in partnership with ABC.

ABC in California has now launched their new app to help law enforcement track illegal incidents involving minors and alcohol. Submitted photo.

“The talent these students brought to this effort increases more timely notifications and improves the opportunities for successful investigations,” said ABC TRACE Supervising Agent in Charge Brandon Shotwell. “They developed an app that is easy to use and will help ABC agents when they respond to alcohol-related emergencies involving California youth.”

The app provides a simple list of questions for responding law enforcement officers to answer from the scene of an incident. Officers can easily access the app through their phones or tablets in the field.

The TRACE Protocol was created in 2004 when a diverse group of law enforcement agencies, including ABC, stakeholder groups and individuals tried to grapple with the problem of youth access to alcohol. The catalyst for the conversation was the death of Exeter Union High School graduate Casey Goodwin. The 20-year-old was driving home from college in San Luis Obispo for her mother’s birthday on March 12, 2003 when her car was hit head-on by a car traveling at 90 mph and being driven by Fernando Ochoa, 18, who had been drinking. Goodwin was actively involved in drug and alcohol prevention activities both at EUHS and at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.

In the aftermath of the tragic crime, Casey’s mother, Lynn, an alcohol prevention specialist with California Friday Night Live Partnership based in Tulare County, asked one simple question: Where did the 18-year-old driver get the alcohol?

“Law enforcement had done an excellent job of investigating the crash, but asking that question just wasn’t part of standard operating procedure,” Lynn said. “In very rare instances is the alcohol stolen. Someone sold him the alcohol or gave it to him.

Lynne’s questions and Casey’s story caught the attention of then Attorney General Bill Lockyer who convened a task force on underage drinking that included his office as well as the California Highway Patrol, MADD, the California Friday Night Live (FNL) Partnership and the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS). Soon after those meetings, ABC created the TRACE Unit.

Under the TRACE protocol, law enforcement officers immediately try to determine where the youths obtained or consumed alcohol prior to the event and notify the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) if the alcohol was purchased or consumed at an ABC-licensed business establishment. If the incident involving under-aged drinkers results in death or injury, ABC will be notified immediately to take the appropriate enforcement action.

Lynn said the beauty of the program is that it didn’t create a burden on local law enforcement. She said ABC is already allowed to collect evidence at places that sell liquor as part of their license and they have investigators ready to handle that aspect of an underage drinking and driving crash.

“All we did was get local authorities to pick up the phone and notify ABC of the incident,” Lynn said. “There was no cost to either department as neither had to spend for additional resources. Everything was already in place.”

The TRACE program continues today thanks to a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The grant provides funding for in-depth ABC investigations of serious incidents, including car crashes, but also alcohol overdoses, poisonings, and assaults involving minors and alcohol consumption. Visit TRACE to learn more.

ABC’s mission is to provide the highest level of service and public safety to the people of the state through licensing, education, and enforcement.

“ABC wants to investigate retailers with licenses to sell alcohol if they think this kind of activity is going on,” Goodwin said. “It’s a priority for them because it is about the well-being of our community.”

This fall, Goodwin said students who are part of Friday Night Live chapters up and down the state will begin to inform local law enforcement agencies and businesses that sell alcohol about the app and ask them to pledge to participate in the program. Goodwin said there is also hope that the TRACE protocol may someday be used to identify pharmacies that sell opioids and dispensaries that sell cannabis to minors, especially those who are driving while impaired.

Alcohol is the most widely used substance among the nation’s young people and initiation peaks in the years between Grades 7 and 11. More than 40% of high school students reported having used alcohol or drugs in the previous month from 2015-17, the most recent numbers available from Seven percent of 7th graders, 20% of 9th graders, and 29% of 11th graders in California public schools used alcohol or drugs in the previous 30 days. Statewide, 11% of 11th graders binge drank at least once in the previous month, and 13% had either driven when they had been drinking, or had ridden with a driver who had been drinking, at least once in their lifetimes.

Underage drinking is associated with risky health behaviors (e.g., unsafe sexual practices), injuries, motor vehicle accidents, impaired cognitive functioning, poor academic performance, physical violence, and suicide attempts; binge drinking places youth and those around them at even higher risk for negative outcomes. Drinking during adolescence increases the likelihood of alcohol dependence in adulthood, and excessive alcohol consumption can have long-term health consequences, including liver disease, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.

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