MIT pledged support last week for a new Cambridge sting operation designed to prevent people under 21 from buying alcohol.
The "Cops in Shops" program teams local law enforcement officers with alcohol retailers to make on-the-spot arrests of underage people attempting to purchase alcohol. In implementing the program, Cambridge joins scores of cities across the nation that have adopted the approach since 1991.
"Every effort we can make to intercede in stopping illegal alcohol purchase by minors is helpful and sends a strong message that in this city, such activity will not be tolerated," said Campus Police Chief Anne Glavin at the November 20 press conference announcing Cambridge and Watertown's participation.
She presented a check from MIT for $1,000 to James Tipping, president of the Cambridge Licensee Advisory Board. Harvard University also made a $1,000 contribution to the program.
Cops in Shops places undercover police officers in stores that sell alcohol. Participating businesses will display signs that read "Warning: Police officers may be posing as store employees." One undercover officer will pose as a store employee while another will be posted outside to apprehend adults who procure alcohol for minors. But the program places the focus on the minors, who are considered the perpetrators of the crime.
According to Massachusetts law, anyone under age 21 who attempts to purchase alcohol can be arrested, issued a fine of up to $300 and lose their driver's license for up to 90 days. Adults who purchase, procure or furnish alcohol to minors are subject to a fine of up to $2,000 and a maximum six-month jail term.
Four underage MIT students were given pretrial probation and a stern lecture last week on charges involving the delivery of alcohol to the Zeta Psi fraternity house on October 10. The presiding judge required the students to perform 50 hours of community service, attend alcohol counseling and pay a $35 victim/witness fee as part of the pretrial probation. The case will be dismissed if the four are not involved in additional incidents before September.
The Century Council, an organization that fights drunk driving and underage drinking, is promoting Cops in Shops nationally with funding provided by the country's leading distillers. According to the Century Council, 38 states and several Massachusetts communities have adopted the program, including Brighton and Allston.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 26, 1997.