POSTED: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 - 10:15pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 - 10:43pm
Baton Rouge, LA (NBC33) — Alcohol is deeply engrained in the culture of Louisiana, from Saturday tailgates to Mardi Gras. Drinking is passed down through the generations, and many people start drinking before they turn 21.
Businesses often think nothing of selling alcohol to minors, even though it is against the law.
Agents with the East Baton Rouge Office of Alcoholic Beverage Control run checks on nearly a thousand local businesses to make sure they not selling to anyone underage.
NBC33 was given the opportunity to join a group of ABC agents on one of their undercover stings.
On this night, the team drives around town, visiting a number of convenience stores, restaurants, and daiquiri shops.
The most important member of the team is also the youngest. A teenager goes into the business and tries to buy a beer. If the clerk refuses, the team moves on.
But if the teen succeeds, the agents go in, confront the clerk with the evidence, speak with his/her manager, and write a fine for $750.
On this night, the first business the team visits breaks the law and lets the teen make a purchase.
Often, agents say, the fine leads to the employee's firing.
"First of all," said David Tetlow, "we ask 'em, 'why did they sell?' A lot of 'em have excuses, say that they were busy or just didn't have time to check the ID. No real excuse for not checking IDs, it's very simple to ask for an ID when somebody's purchasing alcohol. Especially a teenager."
As the night continues, the rest of the businesses follow the law and the teen operative comes out empty-handed.
It may seem like the team failed. But in fact, it's just the opposite.
"When you don't have sales," Tetlow said, "that means the clerks are doing their job."
Of the hundreds of businesses the team inspected last year, Tetlow said 94 percent did the right thing and turned down the undercover teenager.
"We've had, in the past couple of weeks, we've had no sales, which is good" he said. "That means the clerks are complying with the ordinance."
And the numbers have improved significantly in the last several years.
"They're aware that we're out there, and I think we're doing a good job with it," Tetlow said.
"Doing these compliance checks and the classes we teach, we make 'em aware that we'll be checking. And most of them comply with it."