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Santa Monica Police Department Aims to Curb Underage Drinking

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By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

July 4, 2013 -- Police will be sending teenage cadets undercover into Santa Monica liquor stores to bust proprietors selling alcohol to minors.

The department (SMPD) will step-up its undercover operations geared toward curbing drinking by teens thanks to a $40,000 grant from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) the City Council is expected to approve Tuesday.

“We actually send minors in there,” said Sgt. Richard Lewis, the police department’s spokesman. “They are usually working for us, our cadets.”

If the employee of the liquor store sells alcohol to the cadet, “the officers go in there and cite the employee,” said Lewis.

“The employee gets a substantial fine, and the owner gets an even heftier fine,” said Lewis, describing a typical “minor decoy operation.”

The $40,000 grant will fund two such operations, as well as four “shoulder tap” operations in which minors working for the police department stand outside a store and ask people to buy alcohol for them, Lewis said.

Those who agree to buy alcohol for the minors are cited and fined, said Lewis. He added that the amount of the fine is up to the courts.

The ABC will also fund four “trap door” stings. In a “trap door” operation, officers pose as employees of a store and target minors who are trying to use fake ids to buy alcohol.

The grant will also pay for two undercover operations in which officers will go to bars and restaurants to see if bar tenders are over-serving -- that is serving people who are visibly drunk -- or if minors are able to order drinks.

“Illegal alcohol purchasing and consumption is always an issue in this town,” said Lewis. “We are a beach city with a substantial youth population.”

According to Santa Monica's 2012/2013 Youth Wellbeing Report Card, underage drinking in the beachside city is above the regional average with nearly 30 percent of kids in the 7th, 9th and 11th grades reporting that they drink.

While Santa Monica's 7th graders reported drinking at a lower rate than the State and County averages (13.6 percent and 12.8 percent, respectively), Santa Monica's 9th and 11th graders drink at a higher rate.

According to the report, more than 25 percent of Santa Monica's 9th graders drink, compared to 24.7 percent in the County and 25.1 percent in the state.

And nearly half of Santa Monica's 11th graders drink, compared to 33 percent County-wide and 44 percent statewide.

The percentages are higher at Olympic High School, the City's alternative education school, attended by students who “are behind in academic credits and thrive in a smaller learning environment.”

The report said that nearly 60 percent of Olympic High School students reported that they drink, compared to roughly 55 percent of “alternative education” students at the State and County levels.

“These findings suggest the need to focus on youth alcohol use in Santa Monica,” the report said.

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