Identify the Issue

Local Tools for Communities

Unlike most other states, alcohol control and licensing is mostly a local and municipal responsibility in Wisconsin. Because of this, local residents have the authority to improve their community's alcohol environment. Research shows us what works to reduce alcohol misuse. Wisconsin's local leaders can put many of those lessons into practice in our cities, villages and towns.

Use the Alcohol Policy Glossary to help you navigate the terminology. In this section you'll find local tools that might be right for your community.

Not sure where to get started? Use the questions below for guidance.

Are intoxicated individuals on the street vulnerable to harm ?

Public Impairment Ordinance

Why a Public Impairment Ordinance Might Be Right For Your Community:

Do you see intoxicated individuals on the street who are so drunk they are vulnerable to harm or are dangerously impaired? Do you want to protect seriously intoxicated individuals without taking them into custody? Have community members encountered seriously intoxicated individuals on private property or attempting to enter homes?

How it Works:

Public impairment ordinances provide a method for the community to get severely intoxicated people to safety while reducing their opportunity to disturb local residents. Wisconsin does not have a law prohibiting public intoxication. Some communities have adopted similar but narrow ordinances allowing the police to detain and move seriously impaired individuals. These individuals may be vulnerable to harm or a danger to themselves or others. Public impairment ordinances are not alcohol control measures, they simply provide a way to reduce alcohol related harm.

Examples in Wisconsin

Two campus communities, La Crosse and Menomonie, adopted Public Impairment ordinances providing police with a tool to deal with intoxicated youth. In each case, the ordinance was created to address the specific problems and concerns of the community.

Outlet Density Ordinance

Does your neighborhood or community tolerate alcohol related disorder and crime including vandalism, littering, noise problems, domestic violence and drunk drivers? The problem could be too many places selling and serving alcohol in your community. This situation is often referred to as an over concentration of alcohol outlets or an outlet density problem.

What is Outlet Density?

Outlet density refers to the number and location of places that sell or serve alcohol in your community. Read the glossary for more specific outlet density definitions. Over concentrations of alcohol outlets will increase the amount of alcohol related crime and disorder in the community. It is recommended that communities limit alcohol outlet density in an effort to reduce alcohol related harm. In Wisconsin there are approximately 330 residents for each alcohol outlet. Nationally, there are approximately 1,400 residents for every outlet.

A Municipality Can Limit Alcohol Outlets

There is no right to an alcohol license in Wisconsin, an application may be denied for any reason that is not discriminatory or arbitrary. Communities should issue alcohol licenses carefully and only after a great deal of consideration. Poorly operated licensees are not the only cause of alcohol related crime and violence, it can occur even when all the retailers operate lawfully. A municipality never “has†to issue an alcohol license, but once it is awarded it can only be suspended, non-renewed or revoked for cause after a hearing is held. This alcohol licensing process chart and summary describes how alcohol licenses are awarded.

Outlet Cap Examples in Wisconsin

Racine capped the number of Class A off-premises outlets in the city by ordinance.

Madison created a density zone near the UW campus prohibiting additional off-premises licensees and new taverns. New restaurants (more than 50% of the revenue comes from food) may receive an alcohol license.


Are teen drinking parties being held at homes or on property owned by others?

Compliance Checks

Why Alcohol Age Compliance Checks are Important

Alcohol age compliance checks by law enforcement officers offer an effective, low cost approach to enforce laws that reduce and prevent underage drinking. The publicity around alcohol age compliance checks can affect the availability of alcohol to youth and the attitudes of local adults who may have been willing to provide alcohol to youth. Alcohol age compliance checks have a proven record of reducing sales of alcohol to youth. Even moderate increases in enforcement can reduce sales of alcohol to minors by as much as 35-40 percent, especially when combined with media and other community and policy activities. Education and outreach to retailers is not sufficient enough to deter underage sales of alcohol. De Pere found that trainings offered to retailers and two sets of warning letters did not stop sales to youth. Of the 44 locations tested in De Pere in the summer of 2012, 21 locations were willing to sell or serve alcohol to youth.

How it Works

Alcohol age compliance checks determine if retailers are obeying minimum legal drinking age laws by checking the ID of those purchasing alcohol. Alcohol age compliance checks are not stings; the goal is to "catch" retailers refusing to sell alcohol to those under age 21 or unable to present an ID.3 Retailers receive advance notification of the general time frame for the checks. Citations are issued to clerks or retailers willing to sell alcohol to youth. Programs that reward retailers for compliance can complement law enforcement. The positive impact of alcohol age compliance checks will fade over time, checks should be conducted at least twice a year to maintain the compliance rate. The federal government recommends that states seek an 80% compliance rate and suggest alcohol license revocation for retailers who repeatedly sell alcohol to youth. Alcohol age compliance checks improve retailer efforts to train and supervise staff to check ID before selling alcohol. In Wisconsin For over a decade, Wisconsin supported alcohol age compliance checks using Enforcing Underage Drinking Laws (EUDL) federal funds. When funding ended, state or federal support of alcohol age compliance checks ended too. Local police and Sheriffs must rely on local funds to continue alcohol age compliance checks. Local coalitions also may be able to use their funding to support alcohol age compliance checks and partner with their local law enforcement agencies. Intoxicated youth discovered without evidence of alcohol use in the immediate vicinity.

Are intoxicated youth in public with their parents or guardians present?

*Also known as an Underage Under the Influence Ordinance

Why an Intoxicated Youth in Public Ordinance Might Be Right For Your Community

Do local residents and law enforcement officers discover intoxicated youth wandering the streets or in parks without evidence of alcohol use, such as empty cans or bottles, in the immediate vicinity? Do youth ticketed for underage drinking escape legal consequences when their parents assert the alcohol was consumed with them?

How it Works

Some Wisconsin communities have adopted an ordinance making it illegal for an underage youth to be in public with a measurable blood alcohol level without a parent present. Wisconsin does not have a law prohibiting intoxicated youth from being in public. Some youth can be charged for disorderly conduct, but not all intoxicated individuals become disorderly. Wisconsin has an absolute sobriety law for drivers under age 21 and their passengers, but it is not illegal for a youth to but in a public place with a measurable blood alcohol level. Intoxicated youth in public ordinances do not impact a parents right to provide alcohol to their own children, it simply requires them to remain with their child after alcohol consumption. Intoxicated youth in public ordinances help municipalities avoid other problems law enforcement may encounter including:

  1. Intoxicated youth claiming the alcohol was consumed in a different jurisdiction, making it impossible for the officer who detains them to write a citation for underage drinking.
  2. Parents appearing in court and asserting the intoxicated youth consumed alcohol with them present.

Social Host Ordinance

How Social Host Ordinances Work

Social host ordinances offer a new approach, sanctioning adults who provide the location for underage drinking – regardless of who provides the alcohol. Social host ordinances fine adults who knew, or should have known, that underage drinking was occurring on their property. In most cases, hosts don't need to be present when the party occurs to be considered the host and fined. Social host ordinances can be written to cover a wide variety of locations including homes, apartments, rented hotel rooms, and recreational land. Social host ordinances make it clear the community disapproves of adults who provide youth either alcohol or the location to drink alcohol illegally.

Examples in Wisconsin

Over 20 Wisconsin communities have adopted "social host" ordinances creating a stiff financial penalty – up to $5,000 – for adults who provide a location for youth to illegally consume alcohol.

See the Social Host Ordinance in Wisconsin policy analysis for additional details.

Two Rivers. Take a look at this policy language from Two Rivers when developing your community's ordinance.

Compliance Checks

Why Alcohol Age Compliance Checks are Important

Alcohol age compliance checks by law enforcement officers offer an effective, low cost approach to enforce laws that reduce and prevent underage drinking. The publicity around alcohol age compliance checks can affect the availability of alcohol to youth and the attitudes of local adults who may have been willing to provide alcohol to youth. Alcohol age compliance checks have a proven record of reducing sales of alcohol to youth. Even moderate increases in enforcement can reduce sales of alcohol to minors by as much as 35-40 percent, especially when combined with media and other community and policy activities. Education and outreach to retailers is not sufficient enough to deter underage sales of alcohol. De Pere found that trainings offered to retailers and two sets of warning letters did not stop sales to youth. Of the 44 locations tested in De Pere in the summer of 2012, 21 locations were willing to sell or serve alcohol to youth.

How it Works

Alcohol age compliance checks determine if retailers are obeying minimum legal drinking age laws by checking the ID of those purchasing alcohol. Alcohol age compliance checks are not stings; the goal is to "catch" retailers refusing to sell alcohol to those under age 21 or unable to present an ID. Retailers receive advance notification of the general time frame for the checks. Citations are issued to clerks or retailers willing to sell alcohol to youth. Programs that reward retailers for compliance can complement law enforcement. The positive impact of alcohol age compliance checks will fade over time, checks should be conducted at least twice a year to maintain the compliance rate. The federal government recommends that states seek an 80% compliance rate and suggest alcohol license revocation for retailers who repeatedly sell alcohol to youth. Alcohol age compliance checks improve retailer efforts to train and supervise staff to check ID before selling alcohol.

In Wisconsin

For over a decade, Wisconsin supported alcohol age compliance checks using Enforcing Underage Drinking Laws (EUDL) federal funds. When funding ended, state or federal support of alcohol age compliance checks ended too. Local police and Sheriffs must rely on local funds to continue alcohol age compliance checks. Local coalitions also may be able to use their funding to support alcohol age compliance checks and partner with their local law enforcement agencies.


Is drunk driving a community concern or are you worried that people are being over-served?

Saturation Patrols

Wisconsin law does not allow sobriety checkpoints, but many communities use saturation patrols (also known as "high visibility enforcement") to detect and deter drunk drivers.

How Saturation Patrols Work

Saturation patrols deploy a significant number of officers in a specific area to identify and arrest drunk drivers.These operations often involve officers from a number of jurisdictions working in cooperation, creating a visible show of force to deter drunk drivers. In some cases any driver violating any traffic law will be pulled over and evaluated by an officer for possible impairments. When a driver is pulled over, the officer makes a quick assessment of whether or not a driver has been drinking and is impaired. Warnings or citations are issued when appropriate. The standard field sobriety test is administered when appropriate. Saturation patrols are not sobriety checkpoints. Sobriety checkpoints stop vehicles at a specific interval (for example every sixth car) and officers evaluate the drivers for signs of alcohol or drug impairment.

Examples in Wisconsin

In Brown County, a long term saturation patrol effort involving numerous jurisdictions resulted in an increased community perception that drunk drivers would be apprehended.

Outlet Density Ordinance

Does your neighborhood or community tolerate alcohol related disorder and crime including vandalism, littering, noise problems, domestic violence and drunk drivers? The problem could be too many places selling and serving alcohol in your community. This situation is often referred to as an over concentration of alcohol outlets or an outlet density problem.

What is Outlet Density?

Outlet density refers to the number and location of places that sell or serve alcohol in your community. Read the glossary for more specific outlet density definitions. Over concentrations of alcohol outlets will increase the amount of alcohol related crime and disorder in the community. It is recommended that communities limit alcohol outlet density in an effort to reduce alcohol related harm. In Wisconsin there are approximately 330 residents for each alcohol outlet. Nationally, there are approximately 1,400 residents for every outlet.

A Municipality Can Limit Alcohol Outlets

There is no right to an alcohol license in Wisconsin, an application may be denied for any reason that is not discriminatory or arbitrary. Communities should issue alcohol licenses carefully and only after a great deal of consideration. Poorly operated licensees are not the only cause of alcohol related crime and violence, it can occur even when all the retailers operate lawfully. A municipality never "has" to issue an alcohol license, but once it is awarded it can only be suspended, non-renewed or revoked for cause after a hearing is held. This alcohol licensing process chart and summary describes how alcohol licenses are awarded.

Outlet Cap Examples in Wisconsin

Racine capped the number of Class A off-premises outlets in the city by ordinance.

Madison created a density zone near the UW campus prohibiting additional off-premises licensees and new taverns. New restaurants (more than 50% of the revenue comes from food) may receive an alcohol license.


Are you worried that youth can purchase or be served alcohol in your community?

Compliance Checks

Why Alcohol Age Compliance Checks are Important

Alcohol age compliance checks by law enforcement officers offer an effective, low cost approach to enforce laws that reduce and prevent underage drinking. The publicity around alcohol age compliance checks can affect the availability of alcohol to youth and the attitudes of local adults who may have been willing to provide alcohol to youth. Alcohol age compliance checks have a proven record of reducing sales of alcohol to youth. Even moderate increases in enforcement can reduce sales of alcohol to minors by as much as 35-40 percent, especially when combined with media and other community and policy activities. Education and outreach to retailers is not sufficient enough to deter underage sales of alcohol. De Pere found that trainings offered to retailers and two sets of warning letters did not stop sales to youth. Of the 44 locations tested in De Pere in the summer of 2012, 21 locations were willing to sell or serve alcohol to youth.

How it Works

Alcohol age compliance checks determine if retailers are obeying minimum legal drinking age laws by checking the ID of those purchasing alcohol. Alcohol age compliance checks are not stings; the goal is to “catch†retailers refusing to sell alcohol to those under age 21 or unable to present an ID. Retailers receive advance notification of the general time frame for the checks. Citations are issued to clerks or retailers willing to sell alcohol to youth. Programs that reward retailers for compliance can complement law enforcement. The positive impact of alcohol age compliance checks will fade over time, checks should be conducted at least twice a year to maintain the compliance rate. The federal government recommends that states seek an 80% compliance rate and suggest alcohol license revocation for retailers who repeatedly sell alcohol to youth. Alcohol age compliance checks improve retailer efforts to train and supervise staff to check ID before selling alcohol.

In Wisconsin

For over a decade, Wisconsin supported alcohol age compliance checks using Enforcing Underage Drinking Laws (EUDL) federal funds. When funding ended, state or federal support of alcohol age compliance checks ended too. Local police and Sheriffs must rely on local funds to continue alcohol age compliance checks. Local coalitions also may be able to use their funding to support alcohol age compliance checks and partner with their local law enforcement agencies.

Are there just too many places to purchase alcohol in your community?

Outlet Density Ordinance

Does your neighborhood or community tolerate alcohol related disorder and crime including vandalism, littering, noise problems, domestic violence and drunk drivers? The problem could be too many places selling and serving alcohol in your community. This situation is often referred to as an over concentration of alcohol outlets or an outlet density problem.

What is Outlet Density?

Outlet density refers to the number and location of places that sell or serve alcohol in your community. Read the glossary for more specific outlet density definitions. Over concentrations of alcohol outlets will increase the amount of alcohol related crime and disorder in the community. It is recommended that communities limit alcohol outlet density in an effort to reduce alcohol related harm. In Wisconsin there are approximately 330 residents for each alcohol outlet. Nationally, there are approximately 1,400 residents for every outlet.

A Municipality Can Limit Alcohol Outlets

There is no right to an alcohol license in Wisconsin, an application may be denied for any reason that is not discriminatory or arbitrary. Communities should issue alcohol licenses carefully and only after a great deal of consideration. Poorly operated licensees are not the only cause of alcohol related crime and violence, it can occur even when all the retailers operate lawfully. A municipality never "has" to issue an alcohol license, but once it is awarded it can only be suspended, non-renewed or revoked for cause after a hearing is held. This alcohol licensing process chart and summary describes how alcohol licenses are awarded.

Outlet Cap Examples in Wisconsin

Racine capped the number of Class A off-premises outlets in the city by ordinance.

Madison created a density zone near the UW campus prohibiting additional off-premises licensees and new taverns. New restaurants (more than 50% of the revenue comes from food) may receive an alcohol license.

Outlet Density:

An over-concentration of locations that sell and serve alcohol will result in higher rates of alcohol related disorder and crime. It is difficult to reduce outlet density once it occurs; Wisconsin municipalities should award all alcohol licenses carefully, considering both public safety and the economic consequences of over-concentration.

First, learn more about outlet density and hen use the guided checklist to determine how alcohol licenses are awarded in your community.

Outlet Density: Limiting the Concentration of Retailers Selling and Serving Alcohol in Your Community.

Use this checklist to guide your local research on how alcohol licenses are awarded in your municipality.

Next Step: Licensing Businesses to Sell & Serve Alcohol

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