The next time a minor wanders into a West New York liquor store hoping to buy alcohol, he may find himself face to face with an undercover police officer. So may any adult with the intention to buy liquor for anyone under the legal drinking age, for that matter.
“Cops in Shops” is a federally funded program that allows towns to place plain-clothes police officers two at a time in local liquor shops. Since the program’s implementation in West New York in January, Police Director Michael Indri reported that four arrests have been made: two juveniles allegedly trying to buy for themselves, and two adults allegedly trying to buy for minors.
“The program ensures that the public, store owners, and the kids know that underage drinking is illegal,” Indri said. “It’s a matter of prevention for minors to intervene before drinking becomes a real problem.”
Juveniles caught purchasing liquor are given a summons to appear in court and then escorted back to their homes. Adults who provide alcohol to minors are charged with aiding in the delinquency of a minor. They are usually fined, but depending on the severity of the case, Indri said, they could face jail time.
The program has already inspired concerned parents to call for help with their own children.
One evening, a mother who had heard about the Cops in Shops program called Mayor Felix Roque and told him that her 16-year-old son was going out with some friends who were of legal drinking age. She was concerned the friends would attempt to purchase alcohol for her son at a local restaurant.
“She told me, ‘I need your help; I’ve lost control,’ ” Roque said, so he called Indri, who dispatched police to the restaurant.
To the juvenile’s credit, Indri explained, he had not had a drink yet, but both the boy and his of-age friends were “firmly informed as to what would happen if he had,” Indri said.
“This is preventetive medicine,” Roque said. “Now they know that we’re for real. The mother called me recently and said she has not had a problem since.”
“The program ensures that the public, store owners, and the kids know that underage drinking is illegal.” –Michael Indri
Officers are trained by the department’s D.W.I. Coordinator Lieutenant Edward Monti, who is currently in charge of the program, and are placed on detail assignment (off-duty security work) in several liquor shops throughout the town on random evenings.
Each officer who requests to work the detail must go through an hour-long training session that goes over state Alcoholic Beverage Control law and pertinent town ordinances.
“Our officers are out there doing what they’re supposed to be doing and then some,” Monti explained.
Recently, Police Officer Carlos Henriquez was working a detail when he observed a “hand-off” of alcohol from an adult to a juvenile at a liquor store across the street from where he was stationed, and apprehended the juvenile, Monti reported.
“The most important part of this project is the cooperative effort bewteen the department and the store owners,” Monti said. “It’s a positive action to proactively combat underage drinking.”
The shop owners themselves voluntarily agree to let plainclothes officers into their establishments, and must sign a contract with the West New York Police Department. Thus far, according to Monti, not one owner has refused.
The targeted shops are located throughout the town, concentrated on Hudson, Broadway, Bergenline, and Park avenues, Indri said. Officers are assigned randomly on different nights during the week. This prevents people from anticipating where they might be at any given time, with a farther-reaching “big brother” effect, Indri explained.
“The Cops in Shops program is a great deterrent,” Officer Hector Rodriguez said. He has worked one shift since its January inception.
“It’s also a really nice way to give our guys a little extra in economically tough times,” Indri added.
The bigger picture
Cops in Shops is one effort in conjunction with several others the town has set in motion to keep their children safe. Roque and the Board of Commissioners passed an ordinance in January that allows police to write a citation and fine the owners of private residences who allow underage drinking in their homes.
Indri plans to one day install surveillance cameras around the town to monitor raucous behavior related to alcohol consumption. “There’s a lot of things we want to do,” Indri said. “We’ve really been able to work with together across departments, and it’s become infectious in this town to work together to ensure the safety of all of our residents.”
Funding for Cops in Shops is provided through a federal grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to the State Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
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