Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias We�re a lot like you.

All we know is what we read in the papers.

If you�ve been keeping track of news articles in the Plain Talk recently, you�re aware of the stings carried out by Vermillion police in late March and early May.

Officers sent minors they had hired as undercover �agents� to attempt to purchase beer at several local businesses that have malt beverage licenses.

Six businesses failed the test and were stung, so to speak, on March 28. Four businesses failed on May 6. One of them failed the earlier sting.

Anyone who has called Vermillion home for a reasonable amount of time knows it is a community with many bright, young people who strive to do their best.

There are also youth in this town who find the allure of tobacco and alcohol just a bit too strong to resist.

We know of these young people just by doing our jobs. Every week, we publish news from our local court system. Often, the court news includes the names of minors who were arrested for alcohol possession.

It�s at this point that the sting operations themselves become a bit troubling to anyone trying to analyze just what�s going on in the Vermillion community.

People who truly know this community probably conclude that minors hoping for a taste of beer aren�t flocking to the Silver Dollar or Little Italy�s or Jones� Food Store to get it.

People who truly know this community also can easily conclude that any local retailer who failed either of the past two police stings likely wasn�t intentionally trying to sell beer to minors.

Talk to Jere Chapman or Wendy Lockwood. They�re representative of most, if not all, of local businesses with malt beverage licenses in the community.

They likely will tell you they would never intentionally sell beer to a minor.

There�s just too much at stake.

They certainly aren�t going to wreck their livelihood by participating in the risky and illegal activity of supplying alcohol to people under the age of 21.

That�s what�s troubling about the stings.

Sting operations don�t recognize that there are two people involved in an illegal sale. The first is the cashier or bartender who, in legal terms, may be the �unwary innocent.�

The second is the under-aged person who is consciously attempting to violate the law. If that person did not exist (thanks to the Vermillion Police Department in the case of the sting operations) the law would not be broken.

We�ve listened to why the city and police believe stings are effective and important. We�re troubled, however, by what we haven�t heard.

We haven�t heard how sting operations will ever identify cashiers, bartenders or businesses that pander to young people either through a wanton disregard of the law or through criminal negligence.

It seems likely that local businesses that have been caught in the two stings are guilty of something much less serious.

They�re guilty of being human.

We know how easy it is to make mistakes. Pore over any issue of the Plain Talk, and you�re sure to find several that slip by our proofreaders� eyes.

We can�t help but believe that most of the businesses caught in the stings never intended to sell to minors. The cashier or bartender looked at the agents� identifications, and made a simple human error.

It also seems unlikely that sting operations will put an end to incidents like the fraternity party earlier this year that supplied alcohol to 60 minors.

We don�t know all of the details of this incident. We feel safe in assuming, however, that the alcohol was purchased legally by people at least 21 years old. It�s the consumption by the minors, and the adults who provided them the alcohol, that was the main problem.

That�s a concern that stings really can�t address.

Vermillion businesses told the city council they want to cooperate with local law enforcement to help solve the problem of underage drinking. They said they aren�t exactly feeling friendly vibes from the police.

We suggest a cooling off period, followed by a meeting of license holders, law enforcement, and city officials.

We hope that will help clear the air. We hope the outcome will be realistic ways to address the problems of youth and alcohol.

And, we�d like to see the stings stopped. We�re not convinced they are an effective prevention tool.

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