Montgomery Co. is hiring young undercover volunteers to help stop illegal alcohol sales

In Montgomery County, Maryland, stores, restaurants and bars are randomly checked to make sure the businesses aren’t selling alcohol to those under 21 years old. To help in the effort, applications are being accepted for a part-time job as an underage alcohol shopper.

The county is looking for 18 and 19-year-olds for the positions, said Joseph Cannon, a license regulation and education compliance manager at the county’s Alcohol Beverage Services division.

In taking on the role, he said, the teens would need to focus on looking their age, which for young women includes not wearing excessive makeup and jewelry. Young men should not have beards and mustaches.

“When the licensees see them, they’re going to ask, ‘Can I see your ID?’ because they are relatively sure that they are underage or appear to be underage,” Cannon said.

Hired teens would work alongside police and Alcohol Beverage Services inspectors. Once paired up, the teen would receive a list of establishments for the checks.

“What we’re going to be focusing on are businesses that sell alcohol, beer, wine and liquor for on-premise or off-premise consumption as well as tobacco products,” said Cannon.

If at a restaurant or bar, the teen would be tasked with attempting to order an alcoholic drink. For stores, teens will try to buy a bottle of booze from the cashier.

“If the purchase takes place, the underage volunteer walks out and the alcohol (is) immediately turned over to the police officer, or the ABS inspector,” Cannon said.

Cannon said safety is key in these operations, so if at any point the teens feel unsafe, they can call off the check. Also, there are other situations which may prompt the abrupt end of a check.

“If they walk into a business, and they see a lot of friends, we may say ‘just leave,'” Cannon said. “Because we don’t want to create an environment where one of their friends may come up to them and they may have just purchased some alcohol.”

The job pays $16.70 an hour, but Cannon cautions a lot of hours are not guaranteed, because it could be months in between each time they’re called in to work.

While some have been critical of these sorts of undercover operations in the past, Cannon said, they’re effective at discouraging the sale of alcohol to people who are underage.

“We often hear terms like, ‘This is a sting, y’all are setting us up!'” Cannon said. “‘No, it is a compliance check.’ We would love to have 100% compliance,” Cannon said.

As for the punishment for selling alcohol to people who cannot legally drink, the cashier, bartender or server can face criminal charges, which could result in a hefty fine and possible jail time. For the businesses with an alcohol license, a violation could lead to fines and the loss of the liquor license.

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Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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