Clubs try to identify fake IDs

Little after a year since the police raided Toad’s Place, New Haven’s nightclubs are doing what they can to enforce the state’s drinking laws. But some nightclub owners said underage students on the prowl for a good night out are finding more ingenious ways of forging IDs.

In response to last year’s Liquor Control Commission raid, in which 87 underage patrons were found in possession of alcohol at Toad’s, many nightclubs in the city have adopted tighter policies to curtail underage drinking. But some students said they have not seen much change in policies at the doors of many local bars and nightclubs.

Toad’s owner Brian Phelps said he now employs two guards at the door to check IDs and requires patrons with questionable identifications to sign statements confirming their age and to have their picture taken alongside their ID. Despite these measures, which are meant to combat underage drinking and to reduce liability for nightclubs if underage patrons drink after presenting a realistic fake ID, Phelps said there will always be some students who find better ways to create fake IDs.

“Because of their intelligence, [students] figure out the best ways to create IDs and we have to try to see if [the ID] matches up to what it’s supposed to match up to,” he said. “We allow only [IDs] that are not tampered with in any way, [but there] are good documents that would fool anybody, even the [Department of Consumer Protection].”

Phelps said the predominantly out-of-state clientele at Toad’s means his staff cannot use scanners to verify IDs and have to trust their own judgments, which can naturally lead to mistakes and oversights.

Following last year’s police raid, Toad’s reached an agreement on Nov. 2 with the Connecticut Liquor Control Commission, whereby the popular New Haven nightclub will be fined $90,000 and be forced to close for 3 months beginning May 6, 2007.

The raid and subsequent sentencing has inspired other clubs to adopt more stringent security measures to prevent underage drinking in the city, officials from local nightclubs said. For example, a BAR employee said the club — located at 254 Crown St. — has hired two undercover New Haven Police Department officers to check IDs at the door, in addition to the bouncers BAR employs.

Hula Hanks General Manager Mike Steeger said his nightclub — which opened on June 24 on Crown St. — holds a database of pictures of underage patrons who have had a fake ID confiscated at the door to prevent them from coming back another weekend with a different fraudulent ID. He said incidents such as the police raid on Toad’s Place last year and the reputation of some nightclubs in the city of being lax in checking IDs has harmed the image of nightclubs in general. The older 25 to 45 year-old segment of the industry’s clientele often feels alienated, he said.

“It gives nightclubs a bad name and then our main clientele does not want to come as they don’t want to be elbow to elbow at the bar with kids,” Steeger said.

A sophomore, who preferred to remain anonymous while discussing underage drinking, agrees with Steeger that Hula Hanks is widely seen as being tough on checking IDs, but said fake IDs are so easy to make and prevalent around campus that it is impossible for bars and nightclubs popular among students to clamp down effectively on all IDs.

“One day, I went to Staples, got some self-laminating supplies, scanned my drivers’ license, used Photoshop, changed a few numbers and had my I.D.,” she said. “As long as the bouncers like you and you are a girl, it helps.”

A female freshmen, who preferred to remain anonymous, said she often gets in to city nightclubs without having to show any ID. She said the fear of a possible LCC raid does not scare away underage clubbers, as the punishment for having a fake ID is very small.

“The kids who go just tend to go and don’t fear being caught,” she said.

But Sarah Wheeler ’07 said nightclubs in the city have become stricter on IDs since the police raid on Toad’s, though some have done so more than others.

Other New Haven establishments have come under investigation for underage drinking in recent years. Naples Pizzeria, which was raided by the LCC in October 2001, had its liquor license revoked and paid $12,500 worth of fines to the commission.

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