San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

April 20th, 2010
SMPD, TABC to conduct 'minor sting'

STAFF REPORT

The San Marcos Police Department (SMPD) announced Monday that it will join the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) in a “sting” operation targeting sellers of alcoholic beverages to promote compliance with underage drinking laws.

In the next 60 days, SMPD’s Specialized Services Unit, which includes the foot/bike patrol at the outlet malls and in the downtown district, will conduct a “minor sting,” said SMPD Commander Penny Dunn.

This operation targets sellers of alcoholic beverages who may sell to minors, using persons ages 18 or younger attempting to purchase alcohol from local distributors.

“These types of programs are run annually to observe distributor compliance with state laws regarding the sale of alcohol to a minor,” Dunn said. “As required by the TABC, we are putting alcohol sellers on notice that we are initiating this enforcement effort.”

The operation will focus on the San Marcos city limits.

(Editor’s note: The above has been revised to say law enforcement will use persons 18 or younger in the sting.)

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0 thoughts on “SMPD, TABC to conduct 'minor sting'

  1. Also, isn’t it illegal to attempt to purchase alcohol if you are underage? If it is which I believe is the law, how can they make exceptions for 17 and 18 year old volunteers going into stores to purchase…you guessed it, alcohol? So if the police say it is alright, you can ignore certain laws but when they’re not using it to their advantage, it goes back to being against the law…

  2. I guess the sting is legal by the same reasoning that it’s legal for a police officer to break the speed limit in a highway chase, or for an ambulance to run a red light on the way to a hospital.

  3. This is a fairly common practice in many states for busting stores selling cigarettes to minors. I’ve seen clerks fined and/or fired for selling cigarettes to minors with no I.D. or minors who are given fake I.D.s and are employed by the police to bust underage sales. The minors are not allowed to keep the purchases, by the way. Often the minors used look much older than they are. Pretty common practice with cigarettes and has been for decades.

  4. I wonder if the cops’ legal argument is that the minor in question isn’t really “purchasing” the items but rather simply gauging the store’s willingness to sell it to them. Since the minor knows ahead of time that the transaction isn’t real and they won’t be keeping the items, it would be difficult to argue that the minor was truly purchasing anything.

  5. Whether or not it is technically legal i believe it still stands as a terrible example regarding the treatment of our laws by the state. A double standard of ethics that depends on justifying it as a “means to an end”. I think it goes to a broader question about law enforement ethics.

  6. There is a specific section of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code which allow alcohol “stings”. The code is not very detailed on how the operation must be carried out. The legislature tasked the TABC with establishing rules on how the agency could conduct a sting. Although I don’t remember all of them in specifics, there are rules such as the minor must under the direct observation of a peace officer at all times.

    These operations, in the past were usually left to the TABC and went on all the time with little or no publicity. The TABC handled the stings with their very strict internal rules. The TABC never used minors who looked or dressed like they were older. All minors were photographed just before they started their nightly visits to establishment that sell alcohol. If anybody claimed they had been deceived by the minors appearance, the photos were available to settle that issue. The minor was forbidden to say or do anything that might be construed by the seller to think the buyer was older than 21. If asked for an ID, the minor buyer was only allowed to say they did not have an ID or would present their ID which showed them to be under age. Never was the minor allowed to use any kind of fake ID. Anyone who got caught in a TABC sting deserved to be caught and knew it. The San Marcos field office of the TABC has always operated these stings with fairness and professionalism. For those of you who are not aware, San Marcos has some very good and competent TABC officers. Sometimes they are not able to do things like they would like to but that is always the fault of the Austin Hq. who can sometimes do more harm than good.

    The goal of the part of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code which established the place and manner of a sting operation was written in such a way as to not forbid but discourage stings on the part of local law enforcement. The Texas legislature and the TABC have always thought that local law enforcement would, if given half a chance, abuse the sting and not play fair. That has been historically accurate. When allowed to get into the sting business, it is not long before the local cops begin playing games and begin to lure merchants into making sales by sending in minors who look like 30 year old hookers from Odessa and carry fake ID’s. Entrapment becomes the name of the game and soon the local operations are totally discredited.

    The TABC administration has changed much of the operational philosophy of the agency in the last few years and not for the better. That is why we are starting to see the TABC encourage local police to conduct their own stings. This is going to be a disaster and at some point a minor is going to get hurt. Even under the TABC close supervision there have been a few near disasters with minors being locked in back rooms while the merchant calls the cops and minors being chased out of stores at gun point, etc.. The local police and Sheriffs department have participated in community wide stings before but they were operating under TABC rules and supervision.

    We can only hope that the news article is inaccurate and the San Marcos police are not being the lead agency. Merchants and bars will soon be mad because unlike TABC stings, things will get out of hand and the merchants will be less likely to respect or cooperate with the police because they will feel like (and probably were) they were entrapped. Minors will be put a risk and most police officers will think they have better things to do. Favors will be granted and some establishments will, through connections, get a pass and other will leaned on.

    Note to SMPD. Don’t do it. You have enough on your plate without getting involved in something that can lead to no good. Full disclosure. I used to be in the retail and wholesale liquor store business and owned most of the liquor stores in San Marcos.

  7. I don’t see any real difference in this case than when cops go undercover in vice cases to nab prostitutes. Technically, the officer commits solicitation when they agree to the deal, but if they don’t the requisite evidence isn’t obtained. Ditto for narcotics cases….technically, it’s a crime to purchase drugs, but if the narcs don’t get to that point, there isn’t enough evidence to nail the seller.

    The law obviously includes a provision providing immunity to the officers in these cases, and I see no real difference in the “officers’ aides” in these stings.

    Often, “entrapment” is just a code word for “how dare you catch us?” If merchants are worried that they will be “entrapped” by selling products – be it tobacco or alcohol – to underage patrons, the solution is simple. DON’T DO IT.

  8. dano: “If merchants are worried that they will be “entrapped” by selling products – be it tobacco or alcohol – to underage patrons, the solution is simple. DON’T DO IT.”

    dano, with all due respect i could use the same logic to justify wiretapping individuals’ phones regardless of whether they’ve actually committed a crime yet. I could use that logic to make no warrant raids on peoples house as long as i have a hunch. I’ve never been comfortable with this type of logic, It reminds me of when an officer asks to search your car and you say no b/c its an invasion of your privacy and a violation of your rights and he says, “well, if you got nothing to hide” and uses your refusal of search to justify a no permission search.

  9. Jeremy,

    With all respect, I don’t think they’re anything alike. Wiretapping and no-warrant raids are matters of “illegal search and seizure” and a violation of due process. To me, that’s a completely different animal than a cigarette vendor crying “entrapment” when they get caught selling cigarettes to an underaged police plant.

    One is a fourth amendment issue and the other is just sour grapes.

  10. Its great that no one in San Marcos drives drunk. Now SMPD can focus its energy on keeping adults (who can vote, join the military, get married, take out loans, buy cigarettes, go to college, drive cars, fly planes, raise children, buy a house, start a business, and teach students) from drinking “adult” beverages.

    Its also reassuring to know there isn’t any *real* crime (rape, murder, assault, theft…) going on in San Marcos anymore. Thanks SMPD! Keep up the good work!

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