Vice officers hired minors to buy beer from at least 17 Salt Lake businesses in about four hours Saturday, then cited all of the clerks.
Police even cited a clerk at a state liquor store."Definitely, it's a big problem. It's something that we're very concerned about," said Salt Lake Police Lt. Steve Chapman, who heads the city's vice squad.
Police hired minors to attempt to purchase beer as part of a vice operation Saturday evening. Thirteen convenience stores, two grocery stores, a truck stop and a state liquor store each sold beer or other alcohol to the underage decoys without asking for any identification.
"The problem is a lot of these store owners don't care who they sell alcohol to," Chapman said. "We don't want them selling beer to kids."
The lieutenant insists the officers did not hire decoys who look older than 21 in an effort to trick store employees. "The decoys don't look at all like they should be buying beer unless you're blind or something," he said.
City prosecutor Cheryl Luke said decoys are not allowed to have beards, and photos are taken of the decoys to use in court. "These are 18- and 19-year-olds who definitely look 18 or 19," she said.
If asked for identification, the decoys are required to say they have none. They also are required to give their correct date of birth if a clerk asks.
The employees cited Saturday were all ordered to appear in court on charges of selling alcohol to a minor, a class B misdemeanor. The maximum penalty is up to $1,000 and/or six months in jail. Most judges suspend jail time and fine first-time offenders between $75 and $150, Luke said.
"It's a little above a traffic citation, but that's basically it," said Chapman.
If a store continues to sell beer to minors, however, vice officers will seek to have the store owner's beer license revoked.
Some stores will terminate any employee that sells beer to a minor, however, because they don't want to lose the lucrative license.
Luke said she prosecutes on the average of 10 to 15 such citations every week. She said word gets out among store owners and Salt Lake City seems to have less of a problem than other cities because of the vice squad's efforts.
In one of Saturday's busts, a 19-year-old decoy purchased a bottle of a mixed alcoholic drink from a clerk at the Utah State Liquor Store at 416 E. Fifth Ave. Police said the drink is 10 percent alcohol made with tequila.