|Students go 'undercover' in alcohol sting|
|Friday, February 18, 2011|
By Neil Siders
Police work is often viewed through a whirl of flashing lights and screaming sirens often followed by a blur of motion as uniformed officers jump into action, evaluating the situation as to whether it is a simple traffic ticket or a narcotics bust.
But on Feb. 2, as an arrest went down, the process was accompanied by none of the usual sightsâ€“no sirens, no lights, no uniformed officers with guns drawn, generally none of the excitement that can be viewed on Law and Order.
The wily undercover agent was replaced with college students, whose back-up was limited to a van full of students, teachers, and one reporter.
The only stitch of traditional police work was offered by the two vice cops overseeing the operation, hidden behind the black windows of an unmarked vehicle.
This story started on a black rubbery floored classroom in the Pickle Building at Volunteer State Community College.
The classroom, tucked neatly in front of the gymnasium, held desks scattered about the room with the only sense of order in their placement being their alignment with the front of the room, where a projector presented facts about underage drinking and the cost society pays for this often thought harmless crime.
â€śAccording to a recent survey, 26.4 percent of students between the ages 12-20 admitted to alcohol use. Of those, 12.4 percent admitted to operating a vehicle while under the influence,â€ť said the Vol State Director of Criminal Justice Program, Kevin Cook, who continued with the presentation.
The key fact for this operation came to light.â€śOf the 30.8 percent of the students surveyed who admitted to using alcohol, 30.8 percent said that they purchased the alcohol.â€ť
Cook explained that ordinances allow officers of the law to perform compliance checks using minors without violating state law.
Two vice officers from the Gallatin Police Department took center stage.
The vice officers demonstrated the technology that would be used in the operation, showing the class a classic audio wire similar to those used in every law enforcement movie, and a pen camera worthy of early James Bond uses.
As the vice officers strapped the equipment to the student who would perform the compliance checks, the rest of the class was handed a small vibrant green handheld radio locked into the transmissions from the audio wire.
â€śWe always just tell the students to pick up a Bud Light,â€ť said the Vice Officer.
The vice officers instructed the students to present their identification if asked. If the store sold the beer to the student, the minor was to leave the store and return to the officers with the product; the officers would then return to the store to cite and arrest the offending clerk.
The students then piled into a school van, demonstrating a mixture of nerves and excitement.
The van, with blacked out windows, tailed the unmarked vehicle as it bolted from convenience mart to convenience mart.
The students listened to the two green radios with excitement, as store after store denied the sale.
Katie Brown, Office Coordinator for the Sumner County Anti-Drug Coalition, who preformed the compliance check in conjunction with Vol State and the Gallatin Police Department, reminded the students that each denied sale was a victory for law enforcement and the coalition.
â€śWhile it may be a failure for the operation, it is a victory for the coalition,â€ť said Brown. â€ś
Brown said that part of the operationâ€™s goal was to use the media to let the stores know that Sumner County will be implementing compliance checks in every municipality and use the checks as a method to discourage the sale of alcohol to minors.
As class time ran down and the group prepared to return to their daily routine, the group sat concealed behind a cluster of stores located off 109 South. Magic Man was performing his last check at the Smokes for Less Discount Tobacco on South Water Avenue, when the fateful ring of a cash register sounded.
So, without the flare of flashing lights or the screaming sound of sirens in the back ground, the coalition, Vol State, and the Gallatin Police Department arrested someone allegedly breaking state liquor laws.
The clerk faces fines and a mandatory 48 hours in jail; the store faces penalty for its third violation of the state alcohol laws, which could mean losing its license to sell alcohol.