Escondido Police crack down on underage drinking

ESCONDIDO — As local high school students wrap up the school year, Escondido Police will be stepping up their enforcement efforts to curb underage drinking.

“Underage drinking is not only a crime, it is also a serious public health issue that often has tragic and even deadly consequences,” Escondido Police Chief Craig Carter said.  “At the Escondido Police Department, we will use all resources at our disposal to prevent underage drinking.  This includes not only educating and informing the public, but also aggressive enforcement.”

Last year, police arrested 82 people under the age of 21 for being drunk in public in and cited 37 minors for possession of alcohol in Escondido, according to Lt. Neal Griffin. Fifteen businesses were cited for selling alcohol to underage people and two adults were cited for providing alcohol to minors in their homes during 2013 as well.

During the month of May, Escondido Police Detectives and officials with California Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC), conducted four “Shoulder Tap” operations at local businesses throughout Escondido.  Shoulder Tap operations involve a minor, under the direct supervision of an Escondido Police Detective, approaching people entering stores that sell alcoholic beverages and asking that person to purchase alcohol on their behalf.

The majority of people who were approached not only refused to purchase the alcohol for the minor, but often admonished the minor or even contacted the police.

During one operation, an alert employee, who was unaware of the undercover enforcement, saw the minor decoy in the parking lot.  When the decoy began soliciting customers to purchase alcohol, the employee approached the decoy and told them to leave.

But on seven separate occasions during the Shoulder Tap operations, individuals did provide alcohol to the minor decoy. The persons who were arrested for providing alcohol to a minor are: Chelsea Kozar, 24 years of age, from Escondido; Francisco Casas, 50 years of age, from San Marcos; Kimberly Manning, 22 years of age, from Escondido; Sean Williams, 26 years of age, from Oceanside; Rick Grarmin, 47 years of age, from Escondido; Francisco Nungaray, 29 years of age, from Escondido; and Kelly Costa, 23 years of age, from Long Beach.

Each of these individuals was cited and released for a violation of California Business and Professions Code 25658(a), a misdemeanor. These seven individuals now face stiff fines and a requirement to participate in community service.

Shoulder Tap operations have been conducted by local law enforcement throughout the state since the 1980s.  In 1994, the California Supreme Court ruled unanimously that use of underage decoys is a valid tool of law enforcement to ensure that licensees and individuals are complying with the law.

In addition to Shoulder Tap operations, Escondido Police and ABC also recently conducted a “Minor Decoy” operation.  This operation involved an underage person, again under the direct supervision of an Escondido Police Detective, entering a store and attempting to purchase alcohol.

When decoy operations were first used as an enforcement strategy, the violation rate of retail establishments was often over fifty percent.  Now, when conducted on a routine basis, the rate has dropped in some cities to below ten percent.

During the recent decoy operations conducted by Escondido Police Department, only one violator was cited.  Bill Sulaiman, 60 years of age, of Escondido, an employee at the El Mexicano Market located at 602 South Escondido Blvd, was arrested for providing alcohol to a minor.  Mr. Sulaiman was cited and released.

Funding for Shoulder Tap and Decoy Operations is provided by a grant from the California ABC through the department’s Grant Assistance Program.

Another factor that plays into the equation of underage drinking is the mistaken belief by many parents that teens should be allowed to drink at home. Studies show that a significant percentage of underage drinkers have been provided alcohol from their parents or the parents of a friend

Palomar Health Communities Coalition, a local public health coalition working in partnership with the Escondido Police to reduce youth access to alcohol and drugs, urges parents to think twice before becoming a party to underage drinking.

MaryAnne Dijak, Drug-free Community Coordinator at Escondido Education COMPACT and member of the Palomar Health Communities Coalition, advised against in home underage drinking.

“Parents who allow underage drinking in their home, have the false sense of security that if they take away the car keys and keep their kids home, then they have removed the danger from underage drinking,” she said. “But, they haven’t removed the danger of alcohol poisoning, binge drinking and the obvious lowering of inhibitions. All of these problems are increased when alcohol is introduced at an underage drinking party.”

The City of Escondido adopted the Social Host Ordinance to address this issue. The ordinance makes it a misdemeanor for any person who has control of a premises and then knowingly permits, allows or hosts a gathering where minors are allowed to consume alcohol.

A violation of the social ordinance can result in fines of thousands of dollars and the violator may be placed on formal probation. The Escondido Police Department will continue to use the social host ordinance as a deterrent to underage drinking.

Anyone who wishes to report a possible violation regarding underage drinking may do so anonymously by calling the Escondido Police tip-line at 760-743-8477 (TIPS) or by visiting the police website at http://police.escondido.org/

The Coast News Group
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