Inside the liquor department's covert underage buyer operation - News, Weather & Sports

Inside the liquor department's covert underage buyer operation


We all know bars and restaurants are supposed to be checking identification cards, but we also know not all do. So there are police officers and teenagers out there doing undercover work to keep them on their toes.

The Arizona Department of Liquor has a CUB program, in which CUB stands for covert underage buyer. The Arizona Department of Liquor sends in a teenager with their real IDs to try and buy alcohol. If they're successful, the cops are there to bust the sellers.

"You never know what we're going to run into in the night," said Sgt. Wes Kuhl with the Arizona Department of Liquor. They go on CUB stings a few times a month. This time, they let us tag along.

"We get some sort of complaint that a location is selling to an underage," Kuhl said. "We can only check those places per state statute."

After they get the complaint, the undercover officers check it out, usually by sending in the CUB.

"Not every high schooler gets the opportunity to go and do undercover work," said one of the CUBs, Zack, who will soon retire because a CUB cannot be older than 19. Zack said he usually gets a buy 50 percent of the time.

"I've had friends who've gotten hurt from drinking alcohol and from other teenagers drinking alcohol in car accidents and whatnot," Zack said.

"In 2012 we had a buy rate of about 38 percent, so approximately four out of 10 places have sold alcohol to our underage buyers," Kuhl said. He said that number seems a little high, considering all restaurant, bar, and liquor store owners learn about this program when they get their license.

"It's no surprise, we're not trying to deceive anybody, we're just checking compliance," Kuhl said.

On this sting, we went to nine different places that sell alcohol. First, one of the liquor department's undercover cops walks in. Then, the CUB follows a few minutes later.

At our first few locations, the bars and restaurants turned the CUB away like they're supposed to, like Poppy's Place in Tempe.

"I asked for his ID immediately because he looked really young," said Nicole Vidana, a waitress who refused to serve Zack.

If the place is compliant, they'll get a letter from the liquor department saying they passed the test. But not everyone gets that pat on the back. At Valley Fair Liquor Store in Tempe, we followed close behind and saw the clerk sell a beer to the underage buyer.

The clerk that sells the alcohol gets arrested for selling to a minor, which usually leads to a fine. The establishment also gets cited, which can range from a fine to revocation of their liquor license.

On our sting, only one other location sold to the CUB - Dave's Place in Phoenix.

And while there's surely other places the undercover officers would rather be on their Saturday night, they know the CUB program is vital to keeping the peace.

"Our job is to protect the public and protect the safety of the underage people and also people on the streets of Arizona," Kuhl said.

We reached out to the managers of both locations that failed the CUB challenge, but we have yet to hear back. In the 10 years the CUB program has been in place, they've visited nearly 3,000 bars, restaurants, and liquor stores and about a third of them failed the test.

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