NEW SHOREHAM, R.I. (WPRI) — One week after six Block Island businesses served alcohol to undercover teenagers, the New Shoreham Town Council gathered to discuss ways to crack down on underage drinking.
The sting operation was conducted by the New Shoreham Police Department last weekend. Police asked the 18- and 19-year-olds to visit several different bars to see if they would be served.
The 18-year-old was served alcohol at six of the seven bars he went to, while the 19-year-old was served at two of the six bars he visited.
New Shoreham resident Andy Transue expressed concerns over underage drinking and public drunkenness on the island.
“The young adults come out here and get overserved,” Transue said. “They drink in the streets without consequence … we expect them to act like responsible adults, but that’s not going to happen.”
The New Shoreham Town Council discussed the issue at Monday night’s meeting, which was attended by a number of Block Island business owners and longtime residents.
Ballard’s Beach Resort served alcohol to both undercover teenagers, according to police. Since the compliance check, Ballard’s owner Steven Filippi told the town council his business purchased a $3,500 ID scanner to crack down on fake IDs.
This past weekend alone, Filippi said Ballard’s confiscated 20 fake IDs.
“We’ve made dramatic improvements to our operation,” he said. “I would be happy to share that scanner with anyone, because as we know fake IDs get more sophisticated every single week.”
Captain Nick’s owner Chris Willi said he runs a tight ship and works hard to ensure his business is compliant. Willi argued that his business, as well as others that are in compliance, shouldn’t be subject to criticism.
“Why are we all here to fix a problem that doesn’t necessarily apply to all of us?” Willi asked the town council. “Not all of us advertise on TV. Not all of us advertise 100-ounce daquiris on Instagram. It’s not me, and it’s not 90% of the people here.”
Filippi responded to Willi’s comment, stating that Ballard’s has since removed all of its alcohol-related advertisements from its social media pages and is considering pulling its TV advertisements as well.
But it isn’t the advertisements Filippi believes are to blame for the underage drinking problem.
“We’re dealing with 18-year-olds and 19-year-olds that come off the ferry with backpacks in hand,” Filippi said. “They go around the island and they drink … they try to come to Ballard’s, they try to go to other establishments. That’s one of our biggest issues.”
“To place the advertising on the amount of underage people that come to Block Island … you’re not really focusing on the problem,” he added. “It’s just a blame game.”
Resident Jim Hinthorn agreed with Filippi, adding that the underage drinking problem can’t be solely blamed on the businesses.
“We need to start thinking about the culture of tourism,” Hinthorn said. “We need to make a change and adjustment in that culture.”
Willi suggested that one way the town can crack down on underage drinking is to make sure visitors are constantly reminded that all laws still apply on Block Island.
The best way to remind them, Willi said, is to advertise against underage drinking on the Block Island Ferry.
“The town of New Shoreham has to start taking a little more responsibility for the message it wants to portray to the visitors that come to the island,” Willi said. “You have a captive audience … if there’s a specific message you want to get out there, then advertise it [on the ferry].”
The National Hotel owner Judy Fuller said she believes the person that should be held accountable is the person responsible.
“I would like to know who it was. Not so I can fire that bartender, but so I can address it with that person,” she said. “I’ve had multiple meetings with my staff, but I’m not going to hold them all accountable for the behavior of one.”
Nothing was decided at Monday night’s meeting, since it was primarily to discuss improving the quality of life for residents and visitors.
Police plan on conducting compliance checks throughout the remainder of the summer.