PUBLIC SAFETY FACILITY — Two sales clerks and several adults were cited during sting operations involving minors looking to purchase alcohol, authorities said Monday.

Underage decoys attempted to buy booze from 36 businesses in Santa Monica during the “minor decoy operation,” and 44 adults were approached and asked to purchase alcohol during two “decoy shoulder tap operations,” said SMPD Sgt. Richard Lewis.

The stings are part of the Santa Monica Police Department’s effort to reduce underage drinking.

Penalties for selling alcohol to a minor are a minimum fine of $250 and up to 32 hours of community service for a first violation. In addition, the Alcohol Beverage Control Board can take administrative action, which may include a fine, suspension of its alcoholic beverage license and permanent revocation of that license, Lewis said.

In addition to the minor decoy operation, agents with Alcohol Beverage Control conducted the shoulder tap operations where a minor, under the supervision of law enforcement, tries to get an adult to buy them alcohol. The decoy stands outside of a store, makes contact with a customer and then asks them to buy alcohol because they are underage and unable to do so. If the adult agrees, officers make an arrest and issue a citation.

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

Statistics have shown that young people under the age of 21 have a higher rate of drunken driving fatalities than the general adult population.

Minor decoy operations have been conducted by local law enforcement throughout the state since the 1980s. When the program first began, the violation rate of retail establishments selling to minors was as high as 40 to 50 percent, Lewis said. When conducted on a routine basis, the rate has dropped in some cities as low as 10 percent or even below. 

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

The stings were funded through a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

kevinh@www.smdp.com

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