It seems like a harmless enough request: two underage girls asking you to buy them a six-pack of beer for a party.
But that impulse to “be nice” and provide alcohol to a minor had expensive consequences for seven Nevada County residents Saturday — and hundreds of people statewide.
Nevada County Sheriff’s deputies, Nevada City and Truckee Police officers and Nevada County Probation officers participated in a statewide “shoulder tap” operation, said Nevada County Sheriff’s Sgt. Sam Brown. The agencies were working together under a grant provided by the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to spread the word that furnishing alcohol to minors will not be tolerated, Brown said.
“This program helps get the word out and also allows us to enforce violations of the law,” Brown said.
Teams were deployed in front of grocery stores and gas stations that sell alcohol in western Nevada County and Truckee, asking adults to buy them beer.
The decoys, who all were at least 18 years old, were provided with wires and given a safety briefing before heading out.
“Only solicit them once,” Brown said. “Make sure they know you’re not 21.”
The penalty for furnishing alcohol to a minor is a minimum $1,000 fine and 24 hours of community service.
For one man handed a citation in front of the downtown Safeway in Grass Valley, that penalty was being imposed simply because he is a “nice person.”
“I think people have the right to make their own choices,” he said. “I was trying to be nice.”
Brown said the intent is more education than punishment.
“We want people to know we’re doing this, he said. “The more word gets out, the better.”
According to Brown, one out of every 10 adults will consent to buy a minor alcohol, a number that holds true statewide. That number has dropped tremendously since California began running shoulder tap operations since the 1990s, when the percentage of adults agreeing to buy alcohol would be as high as 50 percent in some areas.
Last year, the teams issued 13 citations after the decoys contacted 155 people.
This year, the numbers were down, possibly because fewer teams were deployed. Seven people were cited; the total number of contacts was not available Sunday, but Brown estimated that the percentage was close to 10 percent.
Statewide, there was a total of 536 arrests and citations during the operation.
The team working in Truckee had a decoy approach a man and ask him to buy some alcohol, Brown said. The man reportedly said he was not old enough and told him he could help him out in other ways.
“During our briefing, we instructed the decoys to not purchase any illegal substances,” Brown said. “The decoy followed our instructions and left.”
Members of the task force made contact with the man, and he reportedly sold them what was suspected to be cocaine. Brown said the man began to resist as he was being placed under arrest, but he was eventually detained and the members of the task force located Ecstasy, LSD, and cocaine. The man was booked on charges of possessing a controlled substance for sale and resisting arrest.
Over the course of the afternoon and evening, the teams noted 17 violations and made four arrests. Other than furnishing alcohol to a minor, violations were found for driving on a suspended license, driving without a license, no proof of insurance, possession of controlled substances and possession of drug paraphernalia.
To contact City Editor Liz Kellar, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4229.