County's new alcohol enforcement team makes the rounds at area bars

Only a month into the job, the county's new alcohol enforcement team hasinspected nearly 300 bars, restaurants and nightclubs and written more than 100 warnings for potential violations of state alcohol laws.

The Sheriff's Office announced Thursday the initial results of an agreement the agency entered into earlier this year with SLED to allow 12 deputies to act as state constables, giving them the authority to conduct liquor license inspections and ensure regulatory and statutory compliance with all state liquor laws.There are about 400 businesses in Beaufort County licensed by the state to sell beer, wine or liquor,according to the Sheriff's Office.

Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner said a local alcohol enforcement team rose out of necessity after state budget cuts reduced the ability of SLED's alcohol enforcement to routinely inspect Beaufort County businesses.

The cutbacks coincided with shootingsand fights at a number of nightclubs and bars in northern Beaufort County and on Hilton Head Island, Tanner added.

"So we took advantage of that and entered into this memorandum of understanding with the state," Tanner said. "This is something that we had to do."

Of the 12 deputies certified by the state, two will devote all of their attention to alcohol enforcement and inspections, with the other 10 serving on the unit as needed. In their first month of operation, deputies inspected 299 businesses. The inspections resulted in seven misdemeanor arrests, 117 warnings and 10 citations, according to the Sheriff's Office.

Tanner said after a year, the Sheriff's Office and the county would examine how much revenue has been brought into the state as a result of the team's efforts and determine how much money they believe should be returned to Beaufort County.

Tanner said he hoped devoting deputies full-time to routinely inspecting alcohol and liquor licenses would lead to more compliance with state liquor laws and fewer violent incidents at area restaurants, bars and nightclubs.

"We've got to have some consistency," he said. "Some of the license holders that we made contact with indicated to our deputies that they hadn't been inspected in some time and, in some cases, had never been inspected."