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NJ Police Go Undercover to Bust Underaged Drinking

Summer at the shore means people throwing parties and going to bars, and the State Attorney General’s Office wants to make sure only adults of legal drinking age are getting access to liquor.

Teen Drinking (Flickr User: TheCharlie PH)
Teen Drinking (Flickr User: TheCharlie PH)

Speaking in Belmar’s Taylor Pavilion on Tuesday, Attorney General Jeffery Chiesa and other state and county officials outlined their plan to curb underage drinking this summer. The plan focuses on education for parents to make sure children aren’t supplied with alcohol while underage.

The keystone initiative is Cops in Shops program, which will have undercover police officers from 30 shore towns stationed in liquor stores and bars to catch anyone purchasing alcohol for minors.

The initiative aims to curtail the practice of “fishing,” where minors will ask an adult outside (or inside) of a bar or liquor store to purchase alcohol for them.

Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control Director Michael Halfacre says seeking out sympathetic adults is one of the most common ways for teenagers to get their hands on alcohol.

“For lack of a better term, the most efficient cause of getting alcohol into minor’s hands is friends and family and fishing.”

Law enforcement officers will pose as employees at the establishments, or be stationed outside to catch adults who buy alcohol as it happens.

The Cops in Shops program is funded by a $61,000 grant from the Division of Highway Safety, and police who volunteer to do the four hours shifts get reimbursed from the grant money.

Halfacre notes undercover cops won’t just be in shore town hubs but also in adjacent municipalities where many minors get access to liquor from unsuspecting travelers make stops on the way to parties, restaurants, etc.

“The Cops in Shops Program doesn’t just apply to the towns at the shore, but also towns that lead to the shore. Because that’s where kids will come in, park their car, and wait for a sympathetic buyer.”

Last summer 246 people were arrested during stings conducted by officers in the Cops in Shops program. Buying alcohol for a minor is considered a misdemeanor with fines attached to it, however Chiesa says it doesn’t end there.

“If you serve a kid alcohol or are responsible for serving a kid alcohol and they get into a car accident and kill somebody, I’m not sure the penalties would end there.”

Minors who are charged with buying alcohol illegally are subject to fines, loss of license, and community service.

Since its inception in 1996, nearly 10,000 underage persons and adults have been arrested through the program.

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