BROOKSVILLE — Stores, restaurants and bars that sell alcohol to underage customers are likely to face crackdowns from the Brooksville Police Department in 2011.
A $5,000 grant from the Hernando County Community Anti-Drug Coalition will enable the department to double the number of undercover operations it conducts to enforce compliance with state laws that require anyone who purchases alcohol to be at least 21 years old, said Brooksville police Chief George Turner.
The department will hire minors to try to buy alcohol or cigarettes, and vendors who don't check identification will be arrested and taken into custody, Turner said.
Undercover police officers will be in or near the stores as minors try to buy the alcohol. Previously, Turner said, businesses have failed to check and verify IDs in about half of the cases.
"It's very controlled," Turner said. "(The minors) are never alone."
In the past, the department has conducted three or four undercover operations a year. Under the stepped-up program, Turner said, about five of the department's officers will conduct an additional five or six full days of investigations during the year. The grant will pay the salaries of the officers for their extra work, he said.
"Most of it will be extra-duty time that would normally be off time," he said. "It won't negatively affect our regular operations."
Susan Carrigan of the Anti-Drug Coalition said her organization reached out to the Brooksville Police Department because the sale of alcohol to minors is a big problem in Hernando County.
"We looked at the data," she said. "The top priority of the state was underage drinking."
The coalition is out to educate people, not punish them, she said.
Carrigan helped negotiate a deal with the State Attorney's Office and the courts so first-time offenders can take a class in lieu of a $500 fine. Repeat offenders will face more serious consequences.
"Most of the time, what happens is that the vendors are busy and they aren't paying attention to the kid using the false ID," she said. "The compliance checks are really important. We're going to send letters to people who are doing the right thing."
The Hernando County Sheriff's Office is not a part of the partnership but typically conducts one or two undercover investigations a year targeting sale of alcohol to minors. The most recent was in April, when deputies checked 46 stores and issued six citations.
Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at (352) 848-1432 or firstname.lastname@example.org.