What looked like an average beer purchase at a Dougherty County store last Monday evening was actually an undercover operation, and the clerk who made the sale doesn't realize they sold alcohol to an 18 year old working with the Albany Dougherty Drug Unit.
The unit set up the all-night operation after receiving complaints that certain stores were selling alcohol to minors without checking for identification. Once they collected enough stores who received a complaint and added in the surrounding businesses to make sure everyone is complying with the law, it was time to perform the underage alcohol sales operation or compliance check.
Although some store owners believe the check is unfair, those working with the ADDU say it's not meant to hurt businesses, but simply make sure they're following the law.
"The effectiveness of this law is only as good as the stores who help us enforce it. You can't put law enforcement in every store, so it's incumbent on the stores and the store's employees to make sure they're enforcing this law to keep the alcohol out of the hands of our underage individuals," said Criminal Investigator Jason Armstrong.
The night began slowly with the first four stores turning away the two 18-year-olds, who are instructed to use their real license as identification. Officials say a slow night is a good night, however that quickly changed when the following three stores allowed the undercover teens to make a purchase.
"It fluctuates, you know? We started and the first four we didn't get anything and now we're starting to get them," said Criminal Investigator Victor Camp.
As the night went on, more stores began to sell.
"So far five of the nine have sold to our undercovers," said Armstrong.
"6 out of 11," said Camp into his walkie-talkie.
Officials say what's interesting is that not all of the stores who sold to the teens made the purchase without checking identification, which surprised the undercover.
"It was kind of funny, though how she sold it to me because she said I looked young but she still looked at my ID and still sold it to me."
Camp says that's exactly what they don't want to see while running the operation. After the night is over, those who sold will be identified and the information will be turned over to the district attorney, who will then decide what charges the clerks face.
The clerks then have a certain amount of time given to turn themselves in before a warrant is issued for their arrests, and although some may feel bad for the employees about to get in trouble, the undercovers say they're just trying to help.
"I did what I was brought out here to do. I helped identify that she wasn't doing her job and that could help prevent more mistakes like this in the future."
At the end of the night, the streak of sales came to an end, with the final numbers at 7 stores out of 20 who sold alcohol to the minors. Officials say though it's not their dream operation where no one sells to the undercovers, it's a start.
"I think 35% is a number we can deal with and hopefully in the future when we do some more of these that 35% will drop even lower. That's what we're trying to do, is make sure that the stores and the clerks and even the owners, they're aware that we're going to be doing this and hopefully it will be able to keep them on their toes," said Camp.
Now that the operation is over, the ADDU will continue making sure the stores remain on their best behavior.
"It's encouraging to see it drop to half but we're not going to be happy until we get it down to a 0% sell rate, 100% compliance rate," said Armstrong.