One out of every 10 adults will consent to buy a minor alcohol.
It’s a sobering statistic but one that generally held true statewide during a “shoulder tap” sting conducted Friday by law enforcement and the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
Locally, three teams of Nevada County Sheriff’s deputies fanned out across the county in partnership with several ABC officers and probation officers, in the company of teams of minor decoys.
The teens were stationed outside a number of establishments that sell alcohol, ranging from Lake of the Pines in South County up to Truckee, asking adults to buy them beer.
Over an approximately eight-hour period, the teams went to 20 locations, and the decoys contacted 155 people. Deputies ended up issuing 13 citations for furnishing alcohol to a minor.
The teams turned up several other violations — and even arrested two people after allegedly witnessing a hand-to-hand heroin transaction at a Grass Valley gas station.
The decoys, who all were at least 18 years old, were provided with wires and instructed to make it clear that they are not 21.
“Don’t beg,” the teens were told. “Ask once; if they say no, move on.”
The goals of the shoulder tap operation were to limit the number who buy alcohol for minors and reduce underage drinking, to raise public awareness and to show minors a serious law enforcement standpoint regarding underage drinking, said Nevada County Sheriff’s Sgt. Sam Brown, who was coordinating the teams throughout the afternoon and evening.
“The harder we work, the more we can make a point,” Brown said. “Sometimes, we don’t get a single buy … We don’t make them commit a crime; if they don’t, great.”
The teams began getting into position by 1 p.m. and one team of two boys, stationed outside a liquor store on Colfax Highway, scored a buyer with the first adult they asked.
The man, driving a work truck, looked around nervously before handing them the six-pack of Coors they asked for. After he was pulled over, he was sheepish, saying, “My bad … They seemed like good boys. I’ve been there, I wanted to help them out.”
He said he knew he wasn’t supposed to buy minors alcohol and would “definitely” never do it again, adding, “I never thought this would happen … I just got suckered.”
“It really comes down to the statistics,” Brown commented. “If you ask 10 people to buy, one will probably say yes.”
The boys and their team moved on to a gas station on Nevada City Highway, where a woman soon agreed to buy them beer.
“I feel so f-ing stupid,” she said after being pulled over by deputies, covering her face with her hands.
Later, she told Brown she has medical issues and wouldn’t remember anything he told her.
“Well, if you remember anything, you need to remember not to buy alcohol for other people,” he responded.
On a more positive note, one team of two girls repeatedly was turned down by adults and shooed off the premises by store employees.
“People know now it’s not OK to buy alcohol for a kid,” Brown said. “It’s a pretty embarrassing experience (to receive a citation) — and the fine can be outrageous.”
The penalty for furnishing alcohol to a minor is a minimum $1,000 fine and 24 hours of community service, noted California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Public Information Officer John Carr.
By 7:30 p.m., the three Nevada County teams had issued 10 citations.
“I’m happy with the numbers,” Brown said. “We’re getting the word out, that this is a violation and you will get cited. “We’ve been kicked out of a lot of spots. That’s good, though.”
Several buyers tried to be clever; at one gas station on Sutton Way and Brunswick Road, a young man handed the decoys their beer through the window of his car before speeding off. He was quickly pulled over.
Another buyer at a gas station in Nevada City tried dropping the beer in a bush before taking off. In that case, the deputies caught up to him on the highway.
And a third man, at the same gas station, just took off with the decoy’s money on his bicycle; deputies were able to identify him, but did not catch up to him.
The teams wrapped it up by 9:30 p.m.
Besides the 13 citations for furnishing alcohol to a minor and two arrests for being under the influence of a controlled substance, and possession of a controlled substance, deputies also issued citations for driving on a suspended license, driving with no insurance, and for possession of marijuana.
Statewide, more than 100 law enforcement agencies participated; more than 450 individuals were cited for furnishing alcoholic beverages to minors, and at least 50 were arrested for other crimes such as illegal drugs, illegal gun possession, public drunkenness, parole violations and outstanding warrants.
Many of the local operations were funded through ABC’s Grant Assistance Program, and some were funded by the state Office of Traffic Safety through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The state has been running shoulder tap operations since the 1990s, Carr said.
When they first started running them, the percentage of adults agreeing to buy alcohol would be as high as 50 percent in some areas, he said.
“They do work as deterrent,” Carr said. “The more you get a chance to run those in your community, the word gets out, through word of mouth and through media. It does help reduce the number of violations.”
Carr called the shoulder tap operation a compliance check and said it’s not entrapment, but a legitimate tool to reduce underage drinking.
“It was a busy night,” Carr said, adding that the department chose St. Patrick’s Day weekend because there were expected to be a lot of celebrations involving alcohol. “It was also right before spring break,” he said. “It was a good time to run this. It’s good to get the word out.”
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4229.