Modesto police bust 14 adults in sting to stop underage drinking

rahumada@modbee.comJanuary 19, 2012 

— Modesto police officers arrested 14 adults suspected of buying alcohol for underage decoys standing outside stores last week during a two-day sting operation.

The “shoulder-tap” operation places decoys who randomly asked adults to buy them a six-pack of beer outside liquor or convenience stores throughout Modesto.

These undercover operations, which are focused on reducing youths’ access to alcohol, are funded by annual grants from the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. The operations are conducted mainly by local law enforcement agencies throughout California.

ABC funds these grants primarily through fines it collects. The most recent grant awarded to the Modesto Police Department in July was $70,000. The funding allows the department to pay officers overtime to focus on alcohol-related crimes.

“Through these shoulder-tap decoy operations, we have been able to put more officers out on the street and have taken dozens of criminals into custody, which makes Modesto neighborhoods safer,” said Modesto police Sgt. Robert Stewart, a supervisor with the department’s Crime Reduction Team.

The most recent arrest occurred Jan. 13-14. The decoys, who are 18- to 20-year-olds, are wired for audio and work with teams of officers stationed nearby.

Police tell the decoys not to lie about their age if asked. The officers move in to arrest and cite the offender once the buy has been made and the beer is handed to the minor.

Offenders are charged with suspicion of furnishing alcohol to a minor. The penalty for the charge is a minimum $1,000 fine and 24 hours of community service, said John CarrCQ, a spokesman for ABC.

Since March, Modesto police arrested 90 people while conducting nine “shoulder-tap” operations, Carr said. It’s unclear how many have resulted in convictions, since ABC does not track convictions.

The Stanislaus County district attorney’s office has prosecuted 84 defendants arrested on suspicion of furnishing alcohol to a minor since March.

It’s unclear how many of those cases were the results of “shoulder-tap” arrests.

While the goal is to crack down on underage drinking, Carr said the operations keep more police officers on the street who eventually come across other crimes.

He said many of the people arrested in a “shoulder-tap” operation during the 10-month period also were arrested for drug charges, illegal weapons violations, possessing stolen property and violating probation. One of them had a gun used in a Ceres carjacking, Modesto police said.

Six of those arrested were found with heroin, including one who had nine grams of heroin for sale, Carr said. Another six people were arrested on suspicion of possessing methamphetamine.

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