To prevent alcohol sales to minors, police across the state have been sending the minors themselves into stores.
In a recent undercover investigation involving Trumbull teenagers, the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection and the , four out of 11 businesses in that town .
Youth volunteers, who ranged in age from 15 to 19, used their real IDs for the Dec. 28 checks. According to police, the teenagers were carded and yet were allowed to buy alcoholic beverages at three of the businesses checked, and one another store didn't check IDs at all.
The teenagers doing the checks went through an intensive training program offered by the Governor’s Prevention Partnership (GPP), a nonprofit run by the state government along with Connecticut business leaders, which was created to assure positive performance from the state's future workforce by reducing substance abuse.
Those who volunteer are told to make sure that they look noticeably young, or at least young enough, said Stephanie Moran, a program coordinator for the Partnership. “The rules are very, very strict,” she said.
Volunteers cannot have facial hair or wear college or military sweatshirts; hats cannot be worn. To prepare to go undercover, all teens are instructed to dress age appropriately and the girls are told not to wear too much make up. “Sometimes they have them wash some of it off at the police station,” Moran said.
After being briefed at the station, the teens get into the unmarked police car and visit the designated stores.
A partnership between various organizations
The Governor's Prevention Partnership has training locations set up across the state and works with SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) and local police departments to recruit teens for the program.
Police initiated the checks with the support of Trumbull Partnership Against Underage Drinking (TPAUD), a community coalition created to ensure that Trumbull teens do not have access to alcohol.
"We use kids from different areas around an hour away [from the town being checked]," Moran said, in order to prevent recognition of the teenagers. Parents are required to sign a permission slip before their child can participate.
The training program itself includes PowerPoint presentations that detail possible scenarios, as well as role-playing activities.
Volunteers are sometimes yelled at and kicked out of the stores when the sale is discovered to be an undercover operation. “People sometimes get a little mad,” Moran said.
Program coordinators gauge teens’ comfort levels throughout the training process. Some teens end up deciding that they are not up to the task.
“One of the main factors we have to take into account is the safety of the kids and everyone involved in the compliance check,” said Lt. Tom Savarese of the Trumbull Police Department, who said the checks were supervised by three Trumbull officers.
Stop & Shop, Marisa’s Ristorante, Ruby Tuesday in the Trumbull Mall, and Asian Village were the four businesses issued citations during the Trumbull checks.
“Ruby Tuesday has policies and procedures in place at all of our restaurants to ensure proper service of alcoholic beverages. We are investigating this incident and will take appropriate action,” said Ruby Tuesday Communications manager Meridith Hammond.
Stop & Shop chose not to comment, and Marisa’s and Asian Village could not be reached in time for publication.
After the checks are completed, the liquor agents and police review the violations with the storeowner. There is a $750 fine for the first offense, and for the second, the store can get a three-day suspension of its liquor license.
What else they do in Trumbull
Melissa McGarry, TPAUD coordinator for Trumbull Public Schools, stressed the importance of enforcing these laws and penalties. “While our own data shows that the majority of our teens who drink get their alcohol from their home or a friend's, it is vital that teens not be able to buy alcohol in town,” she said.
TPAUD also sponsors extra patrols on nights and weekends to target minors, using a three-year grant from the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
According to Lt. Savarese, there will be a series of TPAUD-sponsored patrols this January and February. The department is currently in the process of scheduling the dates.