Store owners attend class on how to identify underage cigartte buyers
FORT LAUDERDALE -- Police are testing education as a means to smoke out convenience stores that sell cigarettes and alcohol to minors.
About 20 store clerks and owners previously cited for violations attended a class in September called Slashing Underage Sales, sponsored by the Fort Lauderdale Police Community Support Division and the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco.
The focus of the hour-long session, which spared participants from having charges pressed against them, provided details on how to properly identify young customers and the tricks teenagers often use to make illegal purchases.
Last year, undercover police inspected 43 convenience stores and gas stations, making seven arrests for the illegal sale of alcohol. In addition, 16 out of 72 stores were cited for selling tobacco to minors.
"It's one of those quality-of-life issues," Police Sgt. Bill Johnston said. "If you get kids hanging out, there's more opportunity. We want to take away the opportunity to commit crimes."
Whether violations occur because clerks are uninformed or simply uncaring remains to be determined.
"It's too early to judge the success of the class," Johnston said. "But it is likely a second one will be scheduled soon."
Storeowners were given videos to show their employees. The class recounted state statutes on the retail sale of tobacco and alcohol, penalties, how to control display of products, checking identification, calculating date of birth and instructing convenience store employees. Participants were given a study packet with videos, CDs and lesson plans.
"We have to keep returning to the same store for the same offense over and over again," Johnston said. "If education can prevent that, that's less times we have to go out."
Parents, civic associations and city commissioners have complained about the stores that regularly sell such items to minors. Kids know which stores will sell to them and will frequent them, Johnston said.
Johnston said many complaints came in from the Middle River Terrace neighborhood, which is bordered by Sunrise Boulevard, the Middle River to the north, Northeast Fourth Avenue to the west and the FEC Railroad tracks to the east. Weekly crime walks, where residents investigate crack houses, vandalism complaints and areas where prostitutes frequent, take place regularly.
"There's no hesitation whatsoever on the part of my neighborhood to call the city or the police or code compliance," said Nina Randall, president of the Middle River Terrace Neighborhood Association. "I've never met a group of people so community organized."
Selling cigarettes or alcohol to minors is a misdemeanor offense that can carry a fine, a sentence of up to a year in jail or both. Repeat offenders can risk losing their license to sell alcohol.