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Liquor vendors in Juneau were less willing to sell alcohol to minors in 2001 during a second year of sting operations to crack down on underage drinking.
Although an 18-year-old working undercover was able to buy liquor 40 percent of the time last year, the agent's purchase rate dropped to 26 percent this year, according to data from the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, which led the effort with the Juneau Police Department.
The data show liquor vendors are getting the message, said Ed Kalwara, Juneau investigator for the alcohol board.
"That tells me the licensees in Juneau have become more conscientious," Kalwara said. "They're certainly trying harder, and they're a good bunch of people. They want to do the right thing."
Liquor vendors sold alcohol to the underage agent in 14 of 35 attempts in 2000, compared to four of 15 attempts in 2001, Kalwara said. The sting operation was one of three strategies used this year to bust people for liquor offenses. Investigators also did storefront surveillance to catch adults buying alcohol for minors, and they crashed some parties where kids were drinking.
Authorities this year issued a total of 54 warnings to adults and minors and cited 18 people: 11 minors for underage drinking, three adults for buying liquor for kids and four employees for selling it to them at the Breakwater Inn, Goldbelt Hotel, The Liquor Barrel and DeHarts. The maximum penalty for the employees is one year in jail and a $5,000 fine, said Kalwara, who added liquor vendors could lose their licenses for multiple offenses.
An employee of DeHarts also was cited last year. However, the store was purchased after the incident, and new owner Lillian Harris said a clerk mistakenly sold alcohol to the agent because he entered the store during its busiest hours.
"You're behind the counter, people are shoving stuff at you from both sides, and he just slipped through," Harris said. "You try to look at everybody and make sure you ask them for the IDs, but it happens."
Eleven Juneau stores refused to sell alcohol to the agent, including Kmart, Kenny's Liquor, Liquor Cache, Percy's, Imperial Bar, Douglas Breeze In, Valley Breeze In, Fred Meyer, Fisherman's Bend, Carrs and Duck Creek Market.
State and local investigators launched the effort in 2000 with funding from a federal grant - about $100,000 doled out statewide each fiscal year. Juneau's share the past two years was $11,000 and $14,000, said Kalwara, noting police officers volunteer for overtime to help in the effort.
Juneau investigators are renewing the grant for the fiscal year that began July 1 and tentatively plan to start a new rash of undercover operations in August. Kalwara said the next round could include a follow-the-keg program, meaning undercover officers posted outside stores would follow people who buy kegs to see if minors consume the beer.
They also might do more storefront stakeouts in which the underage agent, usually an 18-year-old, would ask adults to buy alcohol for him. Officers would cite adults who agree to the illegal transaction.
In addition, officers might pose as store clerks to catch minors who try to buy alcohol and adults who buy it for them, said Kalwara, who added they would first get permission from store owners.
Kathy Dye can be reached at email@example.com.