The Santa Monica Police Department issued one citation during a recent “shoulder tap” operation that asked 53 individuals to purchase alcohol for a minor.

SMPD officers visited four stores on March 12 using an underage decoy. The decoy stood outside of the retailers and asked adult customers to purchase alcohol on their behalf.

“Decoy Shoulder Tap operations are geared towards adults who knowingly and willingly furnish alcoholic beverages to minors,” said Sergeant Rudy Camarena in a statement. “The goal is to reduce substance abuse and enhance community welfare by limiting underage access to alcohol.”

Sarah Blanch, Regional Director, Los Angeles Projects Institute for Public Strategies said the “shoulder tap” is a significant source of alcohol for minors.

“According to the California ABC website, a recent survey by the Los Angeles Police Department indicated as many as 46 percent of all minors who attempt to acquire alcohol use the shoulder tap method,” she said.

Institute for Public Strategies operates locally as The Westside Coalition and is focused on preventing underage drinking. The organization sometimes conducts its own alcohol education campaigns and provides resources for the community to prevent minors from access alcohol. The organization had no affiliation with the recent SMPD operation but Blanch said police activity of this type can be very effective.

“High visibility enforcement (enforcement coupled with community awareness of said enforcement, typically via media) has been a common tactic of police departments since the mid 90s, when research began to demonstrate that violation rates drop significantly in cities that regularly conduct minor decoy and shoulder tap operations,” she said.

“Shoulder taps and minor decoy operations (operations where law enforcement send a minor to into stores to attempt to illegally purchase alcohol) are effective primarily because they’re used in combination with media to create community awareness that the operations are occurring. The primary intent of the operations is deterrence. If adults are aware the potential consequences are high, they are less likely to agree to purchase alcohol for minors.”

Blanch said minors get alcohol from a variety of sources and that the community needs to be aware of the comprehensive problem.

She said half of students surveyed in a recent project reported getting alcohol at house parties and from friends. Another 21 percent said they could acquire alcohol from adults.

“Regardless, since underage drinking is a complex and pervasive problem, it’s important to use a combination of strategies that reduce youths’ access to alcohol in both social and retail settings,” she said.