EASY gets tough on selling minors alcohol

Jul 11 2011 - 10:13pm

OGDEN -- Weber County sheriff's deputies have been cracking down on what they say is a common problem in Weber County -- stores selling alcohol to minors.

Officials began executing their EASY -- Eliminating Alcohol Sales to Youth -- program in May 2010. They spend one day every few months going to 26 convenience and grocery stores armed with cash and underage kids who attempt to buy beer from cashiers.

Sgt. Brandon Toll said the under-21 youths come from the Explorer Program, in which high school and college-age students get experience volunteering with the sheriff's office while deciding if a career in law enforcement might be of interest to them.

The chosen youths are trained, then sent out with Deputy Todd Christensen to do compliance checks. The youths are instructed to go into the store, grab whatever beer they want and try to pay for it. They can't lie about their age, and they use their own identification card.

"We don't want to trick the stores," Toll said. "We want (the youths) to look their age, just like any other kid would do."

Christensen said only once has the crew been out and given no citations during the past year of checks. On a busy day, they may cite five or six clerks for selling alcohol to a minor.

"I think it's a problem," Christensen said.

Often, the clerk doesn't ask for their ID, or just looks at the identification card but doesn't do the math to determine the minor's age, Christensen said.

If a purchase is made, Christensen said, the minor takes the alcohol outside, where deputies are waiting in plain clothes and an unmarked car. The deputies then go into the store, inform the clerk that they sold to a minor and give the clerk a citation. If it is the second time a youth has purchased alcohol at the store, the store is also cited and fined for the sale.

The fine for selling alcohol to a minor is $750 for both store and clerk, Christensen said.

As part of the program, the team also targets people in parking lots or inside the store, having the minors ask them to go in and purchase beer for them.

"It's very common," Toll said. "It's unfortunate. That's the majority of how they get their alcohol -- through other people."

In those cases, deputies wait outside and inform the buyer that they bought for a minor and are being cited. Because they knowingly bought alcohol for a minor, Christensen said, the charge is more severe, but they still pay the same fine as store clerks.

Christensen said several businesses have never received any citations -- all of the Maverik chain stores in their jurisdiction, the 7-Eleven station at 2700 N. 1829 South, and the Country Corner at 1150 S. 4700 West.

Chief Deputy Klint Anderson said officials are especially impressed with Maverik's success and have been inquiring about what sort of training materials the company uses for its cashiers.

But several other stores have become repeat offenders.

Christensen said Hoagie's Corner, at 2705 N. 2000 West, has sold to a minor the last three times the check has been conducted. The Top Stop at 1210 W. 1200 South also has sold to the minors working with the sheriff's office on several occasions.

According to police reports, two Top Stop employees told deputies on separate occasions they had been trained to go around the computer system that requires entering a date of birth to sell alcohol. One clerk told the deputy she had been trained to either hit a "default" key to exit out of the date-of-birth requirement or to enter her own birth date.

Those claims are still being looked into, Anderson said.

"We don't know if that's happening," he said, "but that's what they are telling us."

The manager of Top Stop declined to comment on the compliance checks, saying that only the corporate office, Wind River Petro, could speak to media.

Hoagie's Corner Manager Linda Powers said the cashiers are all trained when they are hired to enter a date of birth into the register, but several of the cashiers have failed to do so.

"That's what they are supposed to have been doing," she said. "But they are not doing what they are supposed to be doing."

Powers said the owner of the store will conduct more training with the employees in the coming months to re-educate them and prevent further violations. She said she personally didn't have a problem with the deputies doing the periodic checks.

"They are doing their jobs," she said. "I have no issue with what they're doing."

When a store has been cited several times, Toll said, the sheriff's office sends a letter to the county health department and the city, informing them of the repeated citations, and requests that its liquor license be taken away for a period of time, usually 30 days to a year. Toll said it is ultimately up to the city to decide whether the license is revoked, and all the sheriff's office can do is continue to cite the stores and individuals who sell to youths.

Although there is incentive for sheriff's office officials to continue the program -- they are given money by the state for completing the checks -- Toll said they do it because, "Our goal is to protect the youth in our county, and make sure alcohol is not easily accessible to them."

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