Law enforcement statewide close to tracking 'place of last drink,' but can choose to opt out

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- Across the state, law enforcement may start tracking where people have had their last drink, but law enforcement agencies will have the option to either include the program, or opt out.

For example, if someone was cited for drunk driving or public intoxication, police officers or sheriff's deputies would log where that person was served last in their report. If a bar or brewery received a pattern or multiple references, law enforcement could then investigate -- leading to a variety of penalties, from a fine to revoking a liquor license.

The Dubuque Police Department and Dubuque County Sheriff Joe Kennedy thought the idea had some positives, but there are still a lot of details they want to figure out before they bring it to the area.

"If it's able to help us identify maybe a particular night of the week that we're running into a lot of problem, then maybe we can track that to a particular bartender or a staff of bartenders," said Lt. Joe Messerich of the Dubuque Police Department. "Maybe a little outreach can help with that."

Both Lt. Messerich and Sheriff Kennedy say asking where someone has had their last drink is already standard procedure.

"The new portion of it is just going to be the tracking," Sheriff Kennedy clarified.

To prove how much uncertainty still remains with the program, Sheriff Kennedy said no one has contacted him or sent him anything in regards to how to implement the program locally. Until then, he is not opting in to anything.

"I'd want to see how much of our resources are going to be tied up in doing this tracking," Sheriff Kennedy said. "And if it's going to be of benefit to us in the long run to do this."

But some local spots in Dubuque are concerned this will put bar owners and other establishments in a bad light.

"I think in the long run, especially skewing statistics," said Keith Gutierrez, the owner and President of 7 Hills Brewpub in Dubuque. He argues tracking this data could create a collection of misleading information.

"The bar owner should not be held accountable, in my mind, for an individual," Gutierrez said. "We never force them to come in, it was their freedom to choose to come in and get served, and to leave."

Gutierrez added tracking a last drink could have underlying circumstances. He wondered what if a person at the bar or brewery had medication before drinking? He says targeting people is already a challenge.

"You don't want to stop and ask 'how many have you had?' said Gutierrez. "You can't check their blood-alcohol level [on-site]."

Gutierrez also brought up the concern that some people can seem less drunk than they actually are, even if they have only had one drink at the current bar they are at.

Sheriff Kennedy said he knows those people are out there, but the establishment can control what a person has while they are there.

"If you have a guy that's sitting there and has 12 drinks in 2 hours, whether he looks intoxicated or not, any reasonable person should be able to look at that and say 'that person should not be served any more alcohol at this time,'" Sheriff Kennedy said.

Both Sheriff Kennedy and Lt. Messerich say no final decision has been made, but they think it could be a good idea under the right circumstances.

"If we opt in and it's a beneficial program, then I'm sure it's something we're going to continue; but it's kind of too early on in the conversation to speculate," Lt. Messerich said.

"I am interested in the idea but I want to know how much time it's going to take to be involved in this and if it's going to be cost-effective for us to do that," Sheriff Kennedy said.