When it comes to investigating liquor code violations or just conducting a routine check of establishments that sell booze, Metro Vice, Narcotics and Intelligence is right in line with what about three dozen other law enforcement agencies do, according to a Colorado Bureau of Investigation report.
The 22-page report, released Friday, was conducted at the behest of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office and Colorado Springs Police Department after questions were raised over the handling of an undercover investigation at Hooters at The Citadel. CBI cleared the two MVNI detectives of any wrongdoing, and provided a list of recommendations to improve operations.
But overall, CBI concluded, much of what MVNI has been doing in its liquor enforcement operations is not unusual. CBI interviewed 36 law enforcement agencies in Colorado and out of state, and found that all but five allow undercover officers to consumer alcohol on duty - a practice that some Colorado Springs-area residents have criticized.
"MVNI liquor operations are consistent with industry standard," CBI said.
Still, there's room for improvement, CBI said, and Colorado Springs Police officials agree. In what might be considered a matter of turning lemons into lemonade, Colorado Springs Chief Pete Carey and K. Thor Eells, MVNI commander, said the Hooters incident led to a review and reworking of 20-year-old procedures, with some changes made even before the CBI report came out.
"The operating plans on these things haven't changed in 20 years, and they should have," Carey said Monday.
The main change MVNI made before receiving the CBI report was to implement a database to track the reasons for audits and investigations of establishments that sell or serve liquor.
"We do want to be able to demonstrate the our inspections are not arbitrary," Eells said.
Other changes have been made to follow through on CBI's recommendations, such as documenting alcohol ordered by undercover officers, monitoring officers' sobriety and using audio or video recordings to gather evidence for prosecutions.
Another recommendation is about to go into effect: Using uniformed officers to more quickly respond to violations that undercover officers observe. The uniformed officers would cite or warn people who sell alcohol to underage patrons and deal with transporting suspects.
Money to finance their work would come from a renewable federal grant that has been used to investigate sales to minors.
"We were trying to be the best and most frugal user of our grant monies and overtime monies," Carey said in explaining why no uniformed officers had been part of the protocol. "Clearly, that caught us short. It makes sense. We will do this."
Carey said anyone who believes the CBI report was a "whitewash" or a case of law enforcement protecting its own should read the full report. CBI director Ron Sloan said a lot of hours, research and interviewing went into the investigation.
"I don't know anything else you could do to add credibility to this investigation," Sloan said. "It was a substantial amount of work by one investigator. I would just tell you, I have full faith in the quality of the investigation, and if there's something else that exists that would be pertinent to any allegations of misconduct, we'd need to hear it."
Contact Barbara Cotter: 636-0194
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