Police and business owners are using new technology to keep underage drinkers and guns out of Madison bars

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) – A police cruiser is making rounds in downtown Madison over the weekend. The number one stop for Officer Rick Bruess and his Central District Community Policing Team is what they call a pub check.

“One of the many tasks our team is tasked with is pub inspections. Our students call them bar raids,” Bruess said.

Pub inspections are weekly checks on a rotating list of different downtown drinking establishments to check not only that bars are complying with their liquor licenses, but that everyone inside is safe and responsible. This includes checking for fake IDs.

Through a series of open records requests to the Madison Police Department, NBC15 Investigates is tracking bar inspections, seeing the dates, times and pubs where they took place. The data also shows how many minors police encountered, ranging from zero to 130, depending on the parking lot.

Using fakes and getting caught can land someone with a hefty fine or even a trip to jail. The fine for a fake ID starts at $376. But Officer Bruess says the more people lie about it and try to perpetuate the confusion, the fine increases and the person could even be jailed. He says it’s best to clean up right away.

Madison police are working with bar owners to crack down on students using fake IDs, particularly in the downtown entertainment district. Fakes are becoming increasingly difficult to catch as underage drinkers acquire them. Police and bar owners are now testing new technology to protect against fakes and guns.

“Gone are the days of getting drunk at the door, taking their ID card, looking at their birthday, giving it back to them and sending them off.” The bar has been raised and they need to review those IDs a little more carefully,” Bruess said.

When he started at his current police station, Bruess says, about three-quarters of the fake cops were busted, underage drinkers bought over the Internet, often for hundreds of dollars a pop. Now he says that number is closer to 98%. These fakes are now down to about $20 each, and Bruess says they can look almost perfect.

“They have all the security features that the government would have on that regular ID card, so it looks legitimate and real to the naked eye. The problem that some of these pubs have to deal with now is that these IDs are getting so good that they have to up their game a little bit more when they’re checking these IDs,” Bruess said.

This is where the new technology comes into play. Tech companies are now trying to level the playing field to give pubs and other places an edge in ID checks. Madison police now have tools that scan IDs with 94% accuracy. Madison police are advising the owners of two companies to put up bars – Intellicheck and Patron Scan.

“Intellicheck does a really good job of checking fake IDs. When we tested it, it was 94% accurate,” Bruess said.

Patron Scan is more of a communication tool between pubs, scanning ID cards to store that information in a database. So if someone gets into a fight or causes trouble at the bar, the bar owner can log into their Patron Scan system and record that identity.

“And then that person, if they go to another bar using the patron scan, it will flag them as well. And that bar can then choose, ‘hey where did they kick this person out of. Do we want them in our establishment?'” Bruess said.

At the Churchkey Bar and Grill, on a Saturday night in November, his bouncer smashed dozens of fake government documents through the door in just 30 minutes. Bouncers are trained to look for IDs and the body language of the person issuing them. And then they will ask additional questions if they suspect something is not working.

Armando Acosta, general manager of Churchkey, works to prevent underage drinking. And it takes security a step further. After checking their IDs, patrons are directed to another employee who uses a metal detector wand to search for weapons.

“Before that, we were holding guns during people’s predictions and bag searches. So we decided that this was the final straw,” Acosta said.

Acosta has had a metal detector system for nearly two years now.

“He does not discriminate against anyone. It doesn’t matter what color you are, it doesn’t matter where you come from, you have a gun on you? This is so. If you do, why do you come to my bar? Why do you go to any bar?’ Acosta questioned.

Acosta says that before the walkout was implemented, the bar generated about one call to 911 a month for things like bar fights or unruly customers. Now, with rods, this number has decreased significantly. Acosta says she’s had to go to the police about half a dozen times over the course of two years.

“This is our lack of influence on society. Our tax dollars don’t waste resources just because we hit a stick,” Acosta said.

Not only do the sticks keep guns out, but they also catch people trying to sneak alcohol outside. Not only does the detection keep people from overeating, but it also saves bar owners hundreds of dollars a night.

“That’s what I talked about with other bars. This alone, here is the value of money. See how much money you lose. Each is about 2 ounces. That’s two hits, so you lose eight to $10 in revenue 100 times overnight. If you’re struggling, it adds up quickly,” Acosta explained.

Acosta now talks to other bar owners around town, sharing what he’s learned from his technology. He says the use of metal detectors can also carry a negative stigma, with people thinking the bar is dangerous.

“I don’t understand why people associate it with being dangerous. This is our step, a service to society. It is our duty to be good neighbors, good people in our community,” Acosta said.

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