May 11, 2005 at 3:02 PM CDT - Updated July 10 at 10:26 PM
Undercover - Underage Alcohol Sting By: CJ Cassidy
Cape Girardeau, MO - Heartland police say when it comes to underage drinking, they're cracking down hard. One way: monthly compliance checks to see which stores are selling to minors.
Across Missouri, only eight cities do the checks. Of those, only four have grant money to fund the work, and Cape Girardeau is one of those cities.
Police don't want anyone underage buying alcohol, so they send a minor into stores to see who's sticking by the law and who's not.
You might think spotting a minor would be easy, but you may be surprised at what we found out.
"I try to strike up a conversation with the teller. Just something to break the mood and then I walk around and get my alcohol," a teenager, we'll refer to only as David says.
Armed with a wad of cash the 18-year-old is the special weapon Cape Girardeau police use to weed out the law-breakers from the law-abiding, so we agreed to protect his identity.
"I do it to help out the community to make sure kids out there are being legitimate and actually doing what they're supposed to," David explains.
Police want to make sure of that too, so we followed them along on a routine compliance check.
"Clerks need to look at the ID closely. It plainly says I'm underage, and the picture's on the other side," David says.
The teen struck out at a few gas stations.
"They checked my ID and plugged my date of birth into the computer and then said it wasn't acceptable," David says.
Sgt. Rick Schmidt says that's what they want to see.
"A successful compliance check would be one where you had no sales," he says.
But then David got lucky!
" I went up to the counter and talked to the clerk, shot a little bull, then grabbed me a beer she was happy to sell it to me," David says.
At one Rhodes Convenience store, David says the manager on duty checked his ID but still sold him the alcohol.
"About three out of eight to ten stores will sell to me so it's a pretty good ratio," David tells me.
It's bad news for those who get caught, and it doesn't make a difference whether they sold liquor knowingly to a minor or made a mistake. Police still write them a ticket.
"It's a fine that goes to the public school system where the incident happened, and it's usually about $750 to $1000. It's a lot of money," Jim Maurer, who co-owns the Rhodes gas stations in Cape Girardeau says.
He adds that while his clerks aren't expected to spot fake IDs, the mistake his manager made, cost him his job.
"We like him a lot but he didn't follow procedure. He's supposed to check the ID and enter the date in. I don't blame anyone for making a mistake, calculating it in their heads, and that's why the computers have it in them," Maurer says.
But he's quick to point out that convenience store employees shouldn't have to bear the responsibility alone.
"A lot of the problem is being put on retailers and bars and the statistics we're seeing, most kids get there alcohol from parents or friends," Maurer says.
Police agree parents need to watch their kids, but in the meantime they say they'll continue to carry on with their compliance checks.
The individual clerks also get fined, but it's up to the Municipal Court Judge to decide how much money they'll have to shell out.