With the help of federal funding, Metropolitan Police officers are planning to converge on bars, nightclubs and fraternity parties in an effort to crack down on underage drinking as the school year starts.
The Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention, a federal agency that funds programs nationwide, has given the District a $1 million grant that pays the salaries of MPD officers who work overtime to enforce underage drinking laws. The money also allows the city to conduct sting operations in the 1,600 District establishments that dispense liquor, to ensure vendors aren’t selling to minors.
Part of the operation consists of officers entering bars to check for fake IDs and posing as cashiers in liquor stores, said Cynthia Simms, community resource officer for the D.C. Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration.
Lt. Patrick Burke, who oversees the MPD operation, was unavailable for comment as of press time.
Capt. Michael Jacobs, assistant commander for MPD’s second district- which includes Foggy Bottom and Georgetown – said while MPD enforces underage drinking laws throughout the year, it steps up its campaign when classes begin.
Jacobs, who declined to discuss the specific operations MPD is conducting, said underage students caught drinking would be fined $300 and “spend a night with us” in a jail cell at second district headquarters.
He said officers working overtime on underage drinking operations are also instructed to respond to other types of calls, and that officers on regular patrol also go after underage drinkers.
He also said “several” of his officers have participated in the operation, but would not disclose specific figures.
The federal grant also funds city-conducted compliance checks and free training classes that instruct alcohol vendors on how to spot a fake ID.
Simms said volunteers between 13 and 19 years of age are sent unannounced into stores that sell alcohol to ensure that vendors are not selling to minors.
Any vendor that sells alcohol to a minor will be fined at least $1,000 and lose his liquor license for five days.
In July, 41 out of 120 liquor stores – 34 percent – sold alcohol to minors, according to a District press release.
Of the establishments cited for selling alcohol to minors, none are located in Foggy Bottom, but several are near American and Howard universities.
Simms noted that operations have been conducted in only 200 out of the 1,600 alcohol vendors in D.C.
“We probably haven’t gotten to those yet,” said Simms of the Foggy Bottom-area alcohol vendors.
Thomas Sebastian, an employee at Paradise Liquors – a store in Adams Morgan that sold alcohol to an undercover minor – said the store would be more vigilant in the future.
“We try to prevent sales to minors, we try as much as we can,” he said.
Simms said employees from about 500 businesses that sell alcohol have attended the free training classes.
This article appeared in the August 25, 2003 issue of the Hatchet.