Durango police decided more than a year ago that remedial measures would better address liquor license violations at Colorado Pongas rather than punitive ones. And it seems to be working, city officials said.
Durango Police Department has been training Pongas employees for more than a year with guidance from ServSafe, a National Restaurant Association program designed to train restaurant and food-service professionals in best practices for food and alcohol service.
Since the DPD’s community engagement team started working with Pongas, Cmdr. Ray Shupe said training, collaboration and cooperation with safe serving practices “has been very positive.”
“In the end, we’re all working toward the same goal – we want them to be prosperous and we want to reduce the impact that over-service of alcohol can have on the community,” Shupe said.
Reducing excessive service of alcohol addresses the root cause of problems downtown, Shupe said. Many of the crimes police respond to downtown – including assaults, sexual assaults and thefts – are often committed by people who are too drunk, he said.
The police department’s objective, Shupe said, is to work with downtown businesses to address drunkenness rather than deal with more serious crimes stemming from alcohol abuse.
Police could have imposed punitive measures, but Pongas’ owners were willing to work with the department, Shupe said. Pongas’ willingness to work with the police department means the business could still operate, he said.
“Our intent is not to shut down businesses, but to bring businesses into compliance so we’re all playing by the same rules,” he said.
But that doesn’t mean punitive measures are off the table, just deferred to give the business an opportunity to correct violations, Shupe said.
Ryan Brungard, an attorney representing Pongas’ owners, said his clients have benefited from a working relationship with the police department. Bar owners face “unique operational challenges,” Brungard said, and addressing those issues in collaboration with Durango Police Department “can be really positive,” he said.
“Bars are going to have issues; working together to address those issues is a positive thing,” Brungard said.
Dave Woodruff, president of the Colorado Restaurant Association, Durango chapter, said he’s happy to see the police department working with Pongas rather than punishing it. It’s important for police to work with the community so when things do go wrong, law enforcement can build rapport with residents or business owners to seek positive solutions, he said.
“I think that’s a more proactive approach rather than reactive,” Woodruff said. “I like seeing a more upstream endeavor to try and prevent this.”
And punitive measures don’t always work.
If someone loses a liquor license, it’s not too difficult to get a family member to apply for a liquor license to open and operate another bar, Woodruff said.
“There’s always a work-around, so by utilizing a more community-benefit approach, it’s better for everybody,” Woodruff said.
Safe alcohol service is not new to Durango’s restaurants, Woodruff said. For at least a few years, a current of compliance swept through Durango’s restaurants and bars. It’s a business’s duty to ensure community members who imbibe at its establishment do so safely and responsibly, he said.
Woodruff himself is trained as a ServSafe instructor, and he tries to offer trainings at restaurants at least once a quarter.
And there’s a constant need for training, Shupe said. Turnover at restaurants and bars is often high, and new employees always need training in safe alcohol service practices.
Police officers will continue their enforcement checks on bars around Durango, Shupe said.
“Our intent is to have every bar downtown in 100 percent compliance with the liquor code,” he said. “When we feel we’re successful is when we do a compliance check and we don’t find a violation.”