Seniors Participate in Decoy Program
By Esther Seawell and McKenna Ross
By law, this is what Seaholm students should hear when trying to order alcohol.
However that is not always the case.
This fall, four seniors worked with the Birmingham Police Department to go undercover and see if stores and bars were checking for identification, in a process called the “Decoy Program.”
Each senior goes out on one night and visits about 10 or 11 establishments to attempt to purchase alcohol. The program goes to all 46 businesses that sell alcohol in the city of Birmingham.
“It was not to catch them but to make sure they were actually ID-ing,” senior Laura Gerald* said.
These seniors got involved when BPD’s Seaholm Representative Jerry Hall came to the senior meeting in the beginning of September. After the assembly, the seniors went to Assistant Principal Deb Boyer’s office and signed up.
“When they announced it, everyone around me was like ‘Who would do that? What person would rat those people out’,” senior Vicky Allen* said. “I’m really interested in law, and I thought that getting to know this detective and finding out about this job would be so interesting and it was.”
Each of the four seniors went out on a different Friday night with the BPD. They were dropped off at the bar or drug store and went in alone.
“I went completely solo, so it was totally nerve-wracking,” Gerald said. “You feel uncomfortable because you know you’re not allowed to do that.”
Once inside the place, they would sit down at the bar or a table and order a drink or try to buy a six pack of beer at the drug stores, according to Allen.
If served, the students immediately called in Hall.
“Once I got it, I was instructed to call the detective, they came in and I pointed out which man it was that sold the alcohol to me,” Allen said. “They gave me the keys to their car and I just sat in there while they gave the guy a ticket.”
The individuals that sell to the kids receive a penalty of 100 dollars from the law and they are usually fired on the spot, according to Hall. The businesses receive a 500 dollar fine.
“It’s a fineable offense only,” Hall said.
In cases when the offense happens multiple times, stores can get their liquor licenses suspended for a two week period.
“Most of them are bars and that, you know, it kind of puts them out of business for a while,” Hall said.
Senior Justin Chase* said it was surprising how many places didn’t immediately recognize that he was a minor.
“It was kind of shocking knowing how many people don’t know you need a license for it,” Chase said. “It was concerning, really.”
The students were instructed to bring their licenses with them, and had to present it to whomever was serving them.
“I could usually tell who knew and who didn’t know if they could sell it to me. Some of the places immediately recognized that ‘She’s not 21. She doesn’t have a horizontal license’, and they would just give it right back to me,” Allen said. “But some stores had to call over a manager or calculate the difference between my birth date and the current year. It took a while for them to figure out the right thing to do.”
If a minor tries to buy alcohol at a business, they could call the police. However, Hall says that is uncommon.
“They usually just kick them out,” Hall said. “They could hold them there, but they usually just kick them out.”
The goal of this job was to check if stores would card people, but Chase hopes that it will affect more than the businesses.
“I don’t think it will stop teens from trying,” Chase said. “I think it will stop stores from selling.”
*Names were changed at the request of the students.