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

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) – A police cruiser headed into downtown Madison over the weekend. Stop number one for Officer Rick Bruce and the Central District Community Policing Team is what they call a rooftop search.

“One of the many tasks our team is tasked with is to monitor these shelters. Our students call them bar raids,” he said.

The city’s pubs are checked in weekly to ensure not only that they are following their liquor license, but that everyone inside is safe and responsible. That includes checking fake IDs.

Through several open records requests made to the Madison Police Department, NBC15 investigators are tracking bar inspections, seeing the dates, times and locations of the bars. The data also shows how many minors the police have encountered, from zero people to 130 people depending on the stop.

Using and possessing a counterfeit can land a person with severe fines or jail time. Fines for a fake ID citation start at $376. But Officer Bruce said the more people lie about it and try to keep it going, the more the penalty increases and the person can go to jail. The best thing to do, he says, is to wipe it off immediately.

Madison police are working with bar owners to crack down on students using fake IDs, especially in the downtown entertainment district. And it’s becoming increasingly difficult to catch the counterfeiters in the way that underage drinkers get. Police and bar owners are experimenting with new technology to prevent fakes and firearms.

“Gone are the days of being a bouncer at the door, grabbing the ID, checking the birthday, handing it back and sending them on their way. The bar has been raised and these IDs need to be scrutinized a little longer, Bruce explained.

When Bruce started at his current police department, three-quarters of the fake cops seized were underage drinkers bought online, often for hundreds of dollars a pop. Now, that number is closer to 98% if purchased online, he said. The price of these fakes is now down to $20 each, and Bruce says they can look pretty perfect.

“They have all the security features that are on a regular ID, so at first glance it looks legitimate and real. And now the challenge some of these wineries have is that these IDs are getting so good that they have to up their game a little bit when checking these IDs,” Bruce said.

This is where the new technology comes in. Tech companies are now leveling the playing field and trying to dominate in verifying IDs at bars and other places. Madison police have new devices that test IDs with 94% accuracy. Two companies advise Madison police officers to block them: Intellicheck and Patron Scan.

“Intellicheck does a great job of detecting fake IDs. When we tested it, it was 94% accurate,” said Brace.

Support Scan is a communication tool between shelters that scans IDs to store the information into a database. So if someone in a bar gets into a fight or causes trouble, the bar owner logs into their patron scan system and points that ID.

“And then that person, if they go to another bar using the fan scan, it’ll tag them as well. And that bar, ‘Hey this guy got kicked out of nowhere. Do we want them in our facility?” said Bruce.

At the Churchkey Bar and Grill, on a Saturday night in November, the buyer collected dozens of forged government documents at the door in 30 minutes. The hackers are trained to match the body language of the person giving the IDs. And if they suspect something is missing, they ask more questions.

Armando Acosta, general manager of Churchkey, is working to prevent underage drinking. And it’s taking security a step further. After customers verify their identification, they are directed to another employee who uses a metal detector to search for equipment.

“Before that we used to carry guns on people’s guesses and bag searches. So that’s it, we decided that was the last straw,” Acosta said.

Acosta’s metal detection system has been around for two years.

“It doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter what color you are, it doesn’t matter where you’re from, do you have a weapon on you? That’s it. If you do, why would you come to my bar? Why would you go to any bar?” Acosta asked.

Before implementing roving, Acosta said, the bar generated one call per month to 911 for things like bar fights or patrons. Now with the wires, that number is going down. Acosta said he had to call the police about half a dozen times over two years.

“The impact this has on our community is huge. Our tax dollars aren’t being wasted just because we’re scavenging,” Acosta said.

Wandas are picking up not only firearms, but also people trying to sneak in alcohol. Not only does the detection keep people from being overbooked, but it also saves bar owners hundreds of dollars a night.

“That’s what I’ve talked to other pubs about. Only this, there is value for money here. See how much money you’re losing. Each is about 2 ounces. That’s two shots, so you’re losing 100 times that eight to $10 in revenue a night. And if you’re struggling, it adds up quickly,” Acosta explained.

Acosta is now talking to bar owners around town about sharing what he learned from the technology. He said that the use of metal detectors can carry with it a negative stigma, people who think that the bar is unsafe.

“I don’t understand why people associate it with insecurity. What we are doing is a service to the community. It’s our responsibility to be good neighbors, good people in our neighborhood,” Acosta said.

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