Using a legal ID and telling the truth when asked, a student tests how retailers obey law.
By Margarita Martin-Hidalgo, The Ledger (Lakeland, Fla.)
LAKELAND -- Kyle said he's never had a Corona, a Bud Light or even a
glass of champagne. He's not interested in buying them, either. But
sometimes he pretends.
Whenever Kyle wants to earn a little extra money, the 18-year-old
Polk Community College student helps police officers check whether
businesses are selling alcohol to underage customers.
That means he'll go to local convenience stores, restaurants, bars
and supermarkets and attempt to buy beer using a legal driver license
that clearly shows he's not 21 years old.
Kyle is one of about 12 paid volunteers younger than 21 who work
with the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, which is part
of the state's Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
The Ledger is not using Kyle's last name to protect his privacy.
The Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco regulates the sale
of alcohol and tobacco, and issues permits to businesses that sell
Agents who work for the division are certified police officers.
Lakeland-based Lt. Brad Nelson oversees Polk, Hardee and Highlands
counties for the division.
Volunteers have to be between 16 and 19 years old to participate
in the program.
In addition, they cannot have more than three moving traffic
violations on their driving record in the last seven years and can't
have any points on their driver license, according to state
Other guidelines require the volunteers to be cleanshaven and that
the girls not wear clothes considered revealing. The volunteers are
paid $35 every time they go out.
Kyle said he doesn't think what he does is exciting. Rather, he
does it because "I'm interested in law enforcement."
And Kyle said he has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to the
drinking-age law: If you're not 21, you're not supposed to drink --
even in the privacy of your own home or at a friend's house.
When Kyle goes out, he's not alone. Nelson and several Lakeland
Police Department school resource officers will go along with him,
driving in unmarked police cars.
According to state guidelines, at least one of the officers must
witness the purchase of the alcohol.
Usually, Kyle and another volunteer will try to buy beer at about
20 to 24 businesses, said Lakeland Sgt. Gary Gross, who goes along
for the ride and supervises the school resource officer unit.
Gross said typically about 30 percent of the stores sell alcohol
to the volunteers.
The Police Department's most recent records -- from January to
mid-December of 2003 -- show 17 of 47 businesses in Lakeland sold
alcohol to underage patrons.
Nelson said the most popular excuse cashiers use is that they
misread the ID.