UNDERCOVER ALCOHOL STINGS UNDERWAY THIS WEEKEND
Nearly 31 percent of youth, ages 12-20 admit to paying for alcohol the last time they drank. Among those underage drinkers, 26 percent admitted to purchasing it themselves in a store.
In a coordinated effort to reduce underage alcohol consumption, the Bay Area Council On Drugs & Alcohol's (BACODA) Galveston County Community Coalition, in collaboration with the La Marque Police Department (LMPD), will conduct undercover alcohol retailer compliance checks across the city this weekend.
A compliance check, or alcohol sting, is a tool for law enforcement to identify retail alcohol establishments that sell alcohol to underage youth. While police officers wait both inside and outside the premises, a 16 to 18 year old youth volunteer working together with the police, attempts to illegally purchase an alcoholic beverage.
If a retailer does sell to underage buyers, they may be issued a citation or immediately arrested, and administrative or criminal charges will be filed for failure to comply with Texas alcohol laws. LMPD is planning to issue citations in lieu of arresting non-compliers.
In addition to being arrested, the clerk faces a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $4,000, confinement in jail for up to a year, or both. Additionally, the clerk will have their driver’s license suspended for 180 days upon conviction.
“We want to alert the business retailers in our community who have a license to sell alcohol: If you sell alcohol to minors you will be prosecuted. There is zero tolerance for selling to youth,” Chief Randall Aragon of the LMPD said.
Zero tolerance is right. In July 2009, the Coalition's other partner, Galveston Police Department, conducted a similar operation on Galveston Island. Fifty percent of retailers refused to sell alcohol to minors during the sting. Those who did sell were arrested onsite.
Through greater awareness, Galveston County Community Coalition is hoping to increase the compliance rate exponentially, said BACODA's Coalition Community Liaison, Jennifer Hart.
“We're hoping that the compliance rate in La Marque will mirror that in Galveston Island or exceed it,” Hart said. “Our coalition is strong on Galveston Island, but we really want to be strong in La Marque as well.”
For some, 50 percent compliance rate may not appear as a successful outcome. However, this weekend will mark the first undercover alcohol sting operation for LMPD and the Coalition in over four years.
LMPD believes these alcohol stings are an important first step in creating change in the community. Lt. Greg Gilchrist said they already have a group of safety officers and youth committed to the operation this weekend.
“We need to insure our children are protected from such inappropriate sales,” Chief Aragon said.
Law enforcement officers conduct compliance checks because they have shown to be an effective strategy in reducing underage drinking.
Hart says the Coalition wants to reduce underage drinking because they know it contributes to higher incidences of car crashes, vandalism, unwanted sexual encounters and death by alcohol poisoning, among other things.
“By themselves, compliance checks will not eliminate youth access to alcohol, but when combined with a comprehensive community approach, they can help keep alcohol out of the hands of kids,” Hart said.
“And that's what we're all about.”
To join Galveston County Community Coalition or to learn more about their initiatives, visit www.bacoda.org or dial 1-800-510-3111.