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Program targets minors buying alcohol

August 11, 1998|By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff writer, Waynesboro

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Keith Flood said it might hurt business if undercover police officers hang around outside his Hut Tavern looking for minors trying to buy beer.

But, said Flood, whose family has owned the little white tavern at 11237 Buchanan Trail East since 1947, Cops in Shops may be a good idea.

The program, a nationwide effort to stop minors from buying liquor, started in Delaware in 1991 and spread to 40 states. It is now coming to Pennsylvania.

Flood checks anyone who doesn't look older than 21, the legal drinking age.

"I ask for their ID. Most say they left it in their car. They go out and I never see them again," he said.

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The undercover program brings together police and Pennsylvania's 665 state-controlled liquor stores, including the five in Franklin County, Pa., and the more than 17,000 beer distributorships, bars and restaurants, to solve a problem, said Steve Schmidt, spokesman for the state Liquor Control Board.

Targeted are minors who buy, the licensees who sell to them and adults who buy for minors, Schmidt said.

Sgt. Barry Keller, acting chief of the Washington Township Police Department, said his department is directing the program in Franklin County. Keller applied for the $6,000 grant the county received to pay overtime to participating officers.

Joining Washington Township are police departments in Waynesboro, Chambersburg, Pa., Greencastle, Pa., Mercersburg, Pa., and Mid-Cumberland Valley in the Shippensburg, Pa. area. A seminar on the program was held in Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., last week.

Police in plain clothes will pose as customers and employees in the outlets or stake out the parking lots. In some cases, owners of the establishments won't know when an undercover operation is taking place. Posters warning customers that such an operation may be going on are being placed inside and outside establishments selling liquor and beer.

Officers will work in jurisdictions other than their own to avoid being recognized.

Keller said the county's biggest problem areas for underage drinking are Washington Township and Shippensburg, the site of Shippensburg University.

The manager at the state liquor store at 205 E. Main St. in Waynesboro, who asked that his name not be used, said he has few problems with minors. He scans driver's licenses for verification, he said.

Chuck Minnich, owner of Craig Beverage, a beer distributorship at 11326 Old Route 16 in Waynesboro, said he cards everyone whose age is suspicious. "About 85 percent of my customers are regulars, so I don't have a problem here," he said.

Minors convicted of buying, transporting, consuming or possessing alcohol lose their driver's license for 90 days on a first offense and for a year on a second offense, Schmidt said.

Business owners are subject to fines and suspension of their liquor license if convicted of selling to minors, he said.

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