Massachusetts Daily Collegian

‘Cops in Shops’ is a waste of time and energy

By Steven Gillard

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(Andy Castillo/Daily Collegian)

(Andy Castillo/Daily Collegian)

The Amherst Police Department began implementing the “Cops in Shops” program in which Amherst police officers operate undercover as liquor store patrons or cashiers. The program is funded by a $10,000 grant from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety, and aims to reduce underage drinking, public intoxication and binge drinking.

Officers in a store will ask to see the identification of customers who are buying alcohol. If these customers appear to be buying a lot, the officers will then ask whether or not they are purchasing the alcohol for anybody else.

Capt. Jennifer Gunderson of the APD stated that another primary objective of the program is to reduce the amount of time-consuming protective custody cases, in which a person who has drank alcohol to the point of self-endangerment, has to be taken into custody for his or her own safety.

While the efforts of the APD are noble, I highly doubt that they will yield significant results. Even if an Amherst police officer finds that a person is buying enough liquor for three people, how can the officer prove whether or not the purchases are intended for underage people?

Unless the underage student is outside waiting in his car, then the customer can say whatever he wants: it’s for his legal friends; he’s throwing a party; he has a problem. I’m just not sure what approaching a customer and saying, “Wow, that’s a lot of liquor, who’s it for?” will accomplish.

Gunderson also said she hopes such an initiative will deter students from using fake IDs to buy liquor, but that tactic will also most likely be ineffective.

In every liquor store that I have been to, my ID was put through a scanner to ensure its legitimacy, so I’m not sure what these plainclothes police officers will be able to do with the IDs that the liquor store clerks cannot.

Furthermore, students tend to use fake IDs to get into places where the bouncer simply looks at it casually or in order to purchase alcohol in restaurants where the waiter or waitress won’t put the ID through a scanner. Placing police officers in liquor stores won’t do much to deter students from using fake IDs because most students already know that’s a dangerous place to use it.

The main problem I have with this program isn’t its efforts to diminish the use of fake IDs or the supplying of minors with alcohol, it’s with the program’s stated objective to reduce the amount of protective custody cases and underage drinking in general.

If I’ve learned anything in my three years at college, it’s this: students are going to drink. Despite the measures the administration and police departments take to stop this, students will still get alcohol, they will still get drunk and they will still walk down the street with an open container and get reported to their dean. They will pay the fine, go through BASICS and still, they will drink.

Even if “Cops in Shops” does somehow reduce the overall amount of underage drinking, there is no chance that it will lead to a decrease in protective custody cases because those cases are much more often a product of stupidity than due to access to alcohol.

Every weekend night at UMass, hundreds, if not thousands, of underage students drink and don’t get caught. They’re smart about it. The kids who end up in the drunk tank are the ones who don’t know their limit, who just keep on drinking and drinking and drinking until they are placed into protective custody, which most likely serves as a wakeup call.

Staking out liquor stores where the majority of customers are legal and probably know how to drink responsibly will do nothing to cure inexperience and recklessness.

I respect the sentiment and the effort of the new program but “Cops and Shops” vastly underestimates the lengths to which underage students will go in order to get drunk. It’s going to take more than a cop in a baseball cap to reduce the culture of drinking that is so deeply entrenched in the college lifestyle.

Steven Gillard is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]

1 Comment

One Response to “‘Cops in Shops’ is a waste of time and energy”

  1. Chris on February 18th, 2015 2:10 pm

    This program may deter more underage drinkers from going into liquor stores. Some have the guts to go through with the purchase. Others won’t. Even if it’s a very small amount, if this program can prevent some underage drinkers from going into a store and buying alcohol and lead them to doing other safer activities, then it’s a success.

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