Students arrested under liquor store program

Several students of the College were recently arrested by local police for attempting to purchase alcohol underage, including the football team’s starting quarterback, Jeffery Struble, according to a press release from Ewing Township Police Sergeant Gregory Smith.

The release stated that the students were caught by the Ewing Police’s “Cops in Shops” program, which places undercover officers in local liquor stores to look for underage drinkers who may be purchasing alcohol.

Smith said that on Nov. 11 an undercover officer caught Struble, along with Cory Schoonover and Matthew Tischler, purchasing several 6-packs from the High Spirits liquor store on Olden Avenue. Smith said that when asked for I.D., all three students immediately admitted that they were under the age and were taken to police headquarters. They were released shortly after.

According to the official “Cops in Shops” Web site, the program was designed by The Century Council, a nonprofit organization funded by distillers, and is currently active in 15 states.

A press release on the program’s actions in New Jersey said that additional funding comes from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety, which have together donated over $200,000 to the program this year.

The press release also said that “Cops in Shops” is run in New Jersey by Jerry Fischer, director of the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control of the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety. According to one of Fischer’s statements, as of Nov. 5, 529 people had been arrested in New Jersey this year due to the effort.

In Ewing, the program is headed by Smith, and it has been very successful. “We have caught an underage drinker every time we’ve been out,” Smith said. He also said that in November alone, six local students were caught, and most admitted that they were underage or that their I.D. was fake soon after being approached.

According to a press release from the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety, the program is used in 50 towns across New Jersey, many on a seasonal basis. Jersey shore townships only actively participate during summer months, when students flock to the beaches. For Ewing, it is the opposite. “We don’t send out officers very often in summer,” Smith said.

The actual job for the officers is simple. They dress in street clothes, and wait for any potential illegal purchases. “We send out cops as employees or customers to observe and find people who look young,” Smith said. Participating stores are given stickers to place on doors and in coolers to inform potential juvenile violators that there may be undercover police officers present.

Surveillance is done both in the store itself and in the parking lot. According to one police report, Alan Kotteles and his friend Clifton Fulmer, both members of the College’s football team, were noticed exchanging money in the parking lot. Smith said both were discovered to be 20 years old by a police officer acting on the suspicion that one may be underage and paying the other to legally purchase the alcohol.

When someone appears to be too young, Smith said, the police officer approaches, identifies himself, and asks for I.D. He said this method works well, and officers patrol the shops on a random basis so that underage drinkers cannot avoid buying liquors by specifically avoiding stores where they know cops will be present.

According to Smith, once caught, standard procedure follows for those involved. Any fake I.D.s discovered are confiscated, and the suspects are taken to the station for processing.

The stores themselves, while willingly cooperating with the police, have little to say about the program. One employee of West Trenton Fine Liquors said he pays little attention to the program itself or anyone caught and simply lets the cops deal with any problems that they find without interfering. No comment was made on the store’s opinion of the effectiveness of the program or any effect it has on customers.

While the program is very effective at catching minors who purchase alcohol illegally, Smith said he hopes it will serve as a way of preventing minors from trying to purchase. Along with the warnings in stores, after every arrest he sends out a press release so that the local papers may advertise that people are being caught. “I want to let the kids know that there are consequences,” he said.