August 26, 2013

Augusta police conduct stings to curb underage drinking

Augusta police have conducted a number of details to get adults to buy liquor for underage people.

By Craig Crosby ccrosby@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

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The 20-year-old who worked this detail — his name was withheld — is a corrections officer who could easily pass for 16. The undercover buyer has worked with police on a counter detail, but never a shoulder tap. Massey gave the undercover buyer and Officer Todd Nyberg, who will drive, a rundown of the operation at the police station.

The men, riding in a slightly beat up unmarked Buick, are to drive slowly through store parking lots and look for someone who seems the most likely to buy. Typically, that is a man in his 30s or younger wearing jeans or casual clothes. Massey said they have yet to find a woman who will agree to buy.

Nyberg, who is 25, picks the person to confront at each store, but the officer cannot address the potential buyer, Massey said.

Massey warns the men not to let anyone in the car. If the buyer wants to meet at a secluded location for the hand-off, Nyberg is to pick the spot.

"I'm not 21," Massey said to the undercover buyer. "You have to say that. If they say yes, give them the money."

Massey told the undercover buyer to ask for the change back.

"There can be no monetary gain for them," he says.

Once the beer is bought and returned to the undercover buyer, uniformed police will confront the person who made purchase, Massey said.

"Once they give you beer it's a done deal," he told the undercover buyer.

Nyberg remained in radio contact with Massey and Sgt. Christian Behr, who was driving the marked cruiser. Massey instructed the officer on which stores to target.

"We know which ones are successful," Massey said.

The Buick pulled into a dozen stores across the city, including Mount Vernon, Eastern, North Belfast and Western avenues; Capitol and Bangor streets; and Riverside and Civic Center drives. In several instances, the men found nobody to target, but even when they did they were met with rejection.

"All set, man," one man responded.

"No. Have a good day," said another.

After stopping at several stores, Massey was pleasantly surprised they had yet to write a summons.

"This is the fourth or fifth time we've done this and it's been the first one every time," he said. "It's encouraging."

One woman lectured the undercover buyer and urged him to be careful. Moments later she flagged down Massey and Behr in the marked cruiser to report what happened. She pointed out the Buick, which was waiting at a nearby traffic light.

"It's OK," Massey said. "They're working with us."

The young woman, who said she will soon begin a college criminal justice program, seemed excited to have passed the test.

"You did a good job," Massey said. "Otherwise you would have gotten pinched."

Stats show downward trend

Police depend on grants to fund the underage drinking details. Last week's effort was paid for by a Sober Truth on Preventing Underage Drinking Act, known as STOP Act, grant through the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Healthy Communities of the Capital Area administers the grant locally, said Neill Miner, the agency's substance abuse prevention coordinator.

"Over time, what's critical about these enforcement details, is that over time they deliver the message to the community that there are indeed consequences for underage drinking," Miner said.

Surveys sent to all of the state's middle and high school students make Miner optimistic that the message is beginning to get out. The surveys, conducted by the Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention, indicate that from 2009 to 2011 the number of middle school students who said they've used alcohol in their lifetime dropped from 28 to 26 percent. The number who said they'd consumed alcohol within the last 30 days fell from 12 to 7 percent.

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