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Santa Monica Police Crack Down on Underage Drinking

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By Daniel Larios
Staff Writer

March 21, 2014 -- A Santa Monica police operation staged last Saturday to arrest adults willing to buy liquor for minors failed to turn up a single suspect, according to police.

During the crackdown -- which was part of a statewide “Decoy Shoulder Tap Operation” -- two underage decoys deployed at 15 different locations contacted 227 people in an attempt to have them purchase alcohol for them.

“The fact that there were 227 attempts to circumvent those laws, and they all failed, was good news to investigators,” said Sergeant Jay Moroso. “The results indicate that people are complying.

“I think it has to do with the proactive educational efforts from our Vice unit,” Moroso told the Lookout. ”There's a lot of awareness about this behavior. The people in Santa Monica are catching on to it and they know its illegal.

The vice unit creates training programs to make employees of establishments selling alcohol aware of the behavior and have them actively look to stop minors from drinking, Moroso said.

“In fact, officers encountered situations (Saturday) where clerks at alcohol establishments came out of their stores and told the decoys that what they were doing was illegal and asked them to leave,” Moroso said.

This year's operation saw a marked improvement in behavior over a similar operation three years ago, where two sales clerks and several adults who purchased alcohol for the minors were cited. (“Santa Monica Police Use Minors as Decoys in Liquor Store Sting,” May 13, 2011)

With 25 percent of Santa Monica ninth graders and nearly half of eleventh graders reported to drink alcohol, according to a 2012/2013 Santa Monica Youth Wellness report, underage drinking has become a priority for local law enforcement.

“Decoy Shoulder Tap Operation” involved the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) as well as officers from at least 109 local police and sheriff’s departments throughout the state.

The crackdown resulted in 544 arrests and citation issued throughout California. Most individuals were issued citations for providing alcoholic beverages to minors, according to authorities.  However, there were some underage individuals cited for open containers and false identification.

In addition 60 individuals were arrested for substance related crimes, such as driving under the influence, illegal drugs, and public drunkenness.  Still others were arrested for parole violations, resisting arrest and outstanding warrants.

During the operation, a minor, under the direct supervision of a peace officer, stood outside a liquor or convenience store and asked patrons to buy them alcohol.

The minor indicated in some way he or she is underage and cannot purchase the alcohol.  If the adults agreed to purchase alcohol for the minor, officers arrested and cited them for purchasing alcohol for the minor.

The penalty for giving alcohol to a minor is a minimum $1,000 fine and 24 hours of community service.

Since minor decoy operations were started in California in the 1980's, the violation rate of stores selling alcohol to minors has dropped from as high as 40 to 50 per cent down to 10 per cent and lower, police said.

In 1994, the California Supreme Court ruled unanimously that use of underage decoys is a valid tool of law enforcement to ensure that licensees are complying with the law.

According to the American Medical Association, underage drinking can increase chances of risky sexual behavior and teen pregnancy, juvenile delinquency, compromise health, and result in unintentional injury and death.

Many local operations were funded by the California Alcoholic Beverage Control through the department’s Grant Assistance Program (GAP), and some were funded by the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). ABC is an agency under the auspices of the Department of Business, Consumer Services and Housing.

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