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Officials taking harder look at liquor violations

Dedham, Foxborough, and Brockton have taken action.

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Dedham, Foxborough, and Brockton have taken action.

Officials in several south suburbs are cracking down on bars that serve underage ­patrons or overserve others.

In Dedham, selectmen recent­ly suspended three of the town’s 47 liquor licenses, one for three months, and revoked a fourth.

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Foxborough has held six ­liquor hearings in the past month, including one last week at which a license was suspended for 16 days and the establishment had to pay $10,000 to the town.

In Brockton, officials are considering a home-rule petition giving the local police chief the power to close a bar after alcohol-­related violence on its premises.

“Believe me, we take it seriously, and that’s putting it lightly,” said Carmen Dello Iacono, chairman of the Dedham Board of Selectmen. He has called for two townwide compliance stings in the past two years. ­Before that, there had not been one in 10 years, he said.

“We’re not trying to be the tough guys controlling the licenses,” Dello Iacono said. “I look at it as ensur­ing safety for the people in my town.”

That’s what the state’s Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission wants. In 2012, the agency conducted enforcement operations in about 200 communities statewide and ­responded to 500 complaints related to underage drinking and overserving, said Ted ­Mahony, its chief investigator. About 250 bars and liquor stores have been charged with violations under the Liquor Control Act, he said.

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“Ninety percent of the bars and restaurants in the Commonwealth are really trying to do a good job,” Mahony said, “so we have to focus on the 10 percent.”

Compliance checks, in general, are meant to be an educational tool urging vigilance about checking identification, he said. And it seems to be working.

“We have seen in the past several years a steady decline in the failure percentage, and if you look at how the rest of the country is doing, we are doing quite well,” Mahony said.

Foxborough, however, had six licensees fail a Sept. 27 state-funded compliance check, even though police in uniform hand-delivered warnings to each establishment in advance that a 19-year-old would seek to be served, even though she would present a valid underage license.

Five of the businesses — Showcase Live, Bar Louie, ­Foxboro Mandarin, CBS Scene, and the Blue Finn Lounge at Bass Pro Shops — agreed to short-term suspensions ranging from several hours to several days, while Waxy O’Connor’s, which was accused of violating its liquor license for the fourth time in three years, agreed last Tuesday to a 16-day suspension of its liquor license through Feb. 7 and to make a $10,000 donation to the town. The restaurant and bar had faced losing its ­license, officials said.

“Generally, the third offense is treated with a harsher suspension and early closing, and the fourth offense is revocation,” said Town Manager Kevin Paicos.  

But selectmen have been trying for a fair balance of meting out punishment and encouraging business activity, as the popular bar anchors a minimall on Main Street, Paicos said.

“When you put an establishment like that out of business, it has an effect on the town,” said Paicos, not just on the people who work there.

Selectwoman Lynda Walsh said Waxy’s license hearing was postponed so many times that it gave her and other board members time to think about the penalty, as well as to hear from the public.

“My original instinct was to revoke the license, it being the fourth violation; however, after hearing the presentation, I felt as though finally the crew from Waxy’s are taking responsibility for their ­future,” she said. “I ­believe that both the town and Waxy’s are working together for a safer, smarter dining experience. And I am hoping that other establishments will become more diligent and caring with their liquor licenses, too.”

In Dedham, Wicked Fire Kissed Pizza, The Hilton ­Boston/Dedham, and East ­Dedham ­Liquors were all caught in a Nov. 1 sting serving alcohol to minors, Dello Iacono said. The three also failed a similar check in September.

It was the second offence for the first two establishments, whose liquor licenses were suspended for seven days. Three of those days were held in abeyance for two years if there are no more issues. It was the fifth violation for East Dedham ­Liquors, and its license was pulled for three months, Dello Iacono said.  

Dedham selectmen also revoked the license of District Convenience, after the owner failed to comply with its stated hours of operation, he said.

“I personally want to see someone have a license and thrive with it,’’ Dello Iacono said. “But just follow the rules.”

Liquor licenses are granted by the state based on a community’s population. Some, like Somerville, have tried and failed to persuade the Legislature to remove the cap.

Brockton has a different kind of get-tough initiative in mind: a home-rule petition that would allow its police chief to immediately shut down an establishment for public safety, rather than having to wait for a meeting of the city’s License Commission.

The proposal, which needs city and state approval, was initiated by City Council President Thomas Brophy, prompted in part by a June death outside a troubled city bar whose owners did not face consequences until several months later, officials said.

Councilor Thomas Monahan of Ward 4 said the proposal, which is still under development, would serve as an emergency tool in situations like a ­riot in a bar.

“Basically, we want the power in extreme circumstances to say: ‘We are shutting you down. This is ridiculous,’ ” he said.

Mahony, the ABCC investigator, said he backs the Brockton proposal.

“I would support it wholeheartedly,’’ he said. “Police in any community are on the front line, and if you see people being hospitalized up to the point of fatalities you have to look at what the bar is doing to prevent that.”

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at michelebolton@
live.com
.

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