• Illustration by Shiela Laufer

Good news for all the Oregon college students in the house: If it's the Oregon Liquor Control Commission creeping on you, you'll soon know it.

The OLCC says it plans to require its liquor inspectors to slap magnetic decals on vehicles as they patrol college campuses in the near future. The move—along with a recent decision to force inspectors to wear spiffy new polos emblazoned with the OLCC logo—is a big change for liquor agents are used to anonymity. Until recently, inspectors were able to fly under the radar, whether walking into a corner store or crawling the streets of Corvallis.

That's being tweaked, in part, because of concerns over how they used that anonymity. Lawmakers began hearing disturbing tales last month about inspectors' enforcement of underage drinking laws around Lewis and Clark College in Southwest Portland. The story of a female student who thought she was about to be kidnapped during a late-night stroll through Sellwood especially caught legislators' attention. It turned out the unmarked car chasing her down the street was a couple of OLCC agents.

"If I were the liquor control commission chair and there were two clowns running around in an unmarked car hauling down on lone females near a college campus, those guys would be counting paper clips while we had an investigation on their fitness to do the job," State Senator Ted Ferrioli (R-John Day), told the Mercury earlier this year. "You do not do a Starsky and Hutch in the middle of a darkened street."

The OLCC's most-recent move would largely eliminate those types of interactions at colleges and universities throughout the state, but there are also lingering questions about how specifically the agency is going to move forward. Spokeswoman Christie Scott said in an email that inspectors will be required to use the car decals "when on college campuses," but in a followup conversation couldn't say whether the agency will require them when agents are patrolling near campuses (Sellwood, where the controversial stop took place last year, is across the river from Lewis and Clark).

"The details are still to be worked out," she said. "I don't know the answers to those questions."

Lewis and Clark students, meanwhile, are cheering the changes.

"I think that this is a step in the right direction," says Phoebe Gresser, the student who complained about OLCC agents pursuing her in an unmarked car. "However, we are going to continue to emphasize the importance of easily identifiable vehicles."

Not happy: Inspectors, who say flying incognito is a central part of their jobs—and their safety. Several agents have cited the new signage they're required to bear as reason they've been seeking permission to carry guns.

"Part of our safety was our anonymity," OLCC Inspector Chad Gray told the Mercury last month.