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Ferndale

January 30, 2013

Alcohol, tobacco stings show few violations in Ferndale

By Jeremy Selweski
C & G Staff Writer

FERNDALE — A recent series of stings by the Ferndale Police Department and the Southeast Oakland Coalition (SEOC) revealed that, although a handful of city businesses were caught selling beer or cigarettes to minors, the vast majority were found to be complying with the law.

According to Detective Lt. Bill Wilson, Ferndale police have been working with the SEOC — an organization that aims to prevent substance abuse among students within Ferndale Public Schools and educate them about the dangers of drugs and alcohol — in an ongoing effort to ensure that Ferndale stores, bars and restaurants are not selling alcohol or tobacco products to underage residents.

“We just want people to know that we do check for these types of violations and try to make sure that all of our businesses are complying with the law,” Wilson said. “We also want to put the word out to our local businesses that we are looking out for this and to let our local youth know that businesses will not sell these products to them.”

Added Carly Podzikowski, program director for the SEOC, “Our ultimate goal here is to achieve 100 percent compliance at all of our local businesses. We just want to make sure that they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing and that they realize there are consequences for selling to minors.”

Wilson stressed that, considering the large number of establishments that sell alcohol or tobacco in Ferndale, police investigations resulted in very few violations. For the tobacco stings, Detective Paul Simpson collaborated with a 17-year-old volunteer from the Southeast Oakland Coalition to investigate each business.

Their inspections showed that 25 of the 26 establishments visited by the minor refused to sell him cigarettes. Only Morgante’s party store at 1915 E. Nine Mile Road failed the test when a clerk sold a pack of cigarettes to the boy. The clerk was issued a ticket, and the investigation is continuing to determine whether Ferndale police will turn the matter over to the Michigan Liquor Control Commission (MLCC) for administrative action.

Wilson pointed out that, when conducting sting operations, Ferndale police always utilize minor decoys whose appearance matches their age: A 17-year-old decoy looks like he’s 17, not 25, and he doesn’t have a fake ID to help him fool store clerks, either.

“We definitely use kids who look like kids,” he explained. “We’re not out there to scam anybody or trick anybody into selling beer and cigarettes to someone who’s underage.”

In addition to the tobacco stings, Wilson said, Ferndale police have also teamed up with the SEOC several times over the last couple years for similar decoy operations to determine which stores in Ferndale would sell alcohol to minors. During that time, only a handful of businesses were found to be in violation.

The Ferndale One Stop at 22008 Woodward Ave. sold beer to a minor on July 28, 2011; the clerk was issued a citation, and the matter was turned over to the MLCC. The same series of events occurred at the CVS pharmacy at 900 W. Nine Mile Road on Aug. 8, 2012. That same day, Ferndale Foods at 600 W. Nine Mile Road was also caught selling beer to the minor decoy. However, the matter was not referred to the MLCC, Wilson said, because the business has a clean history and its owners fully cooperated with the police investigation.

Meanwhile, the Heights Food Center at 510 Woodward Heights Boulevard was caught selling beer to a minor twice over the span of a year. The first incident occurred on July 28, 2011; in that case, Wilson said, the clerk in violation lied to the officers about his identity and was eventually arrested by Ferndale police. But because the store had no history of violations and its owners were entirely cooperative, the matter was not referred to the MLCC. However, when another store clerk failed a sting operation on Aug. 8, 2012, Ferndale police opted to report the incident.

According to Joe Barash, manager of the Heights Food Center, neither of these violations were committed intentionally. “We made a mistake, and that happens sometimes,” he admitted. “You get a really busy day, and you can forget to check someone’s ID. We just want the citizens of Ferndale to know that we are a family-friendly business that has been in this community for 36 years. It was just a mistake — we would never try to do something like that on purpose.”

Phone calls were also placed seeking comment from the management of the Ferndale One Stop, Ferndale Foods, Morgante’s and CVS, but none of these calls were returned by press time.

Wilson confirmed that incidents of stores deliberately selling alcohol or tobacco to minors are very rare in Ferndale. “Most often, this results from a clerk who forgot to ask for ID or maybe just wasn’t paying attention,” he stated.

The good news, Podzikowski said, is that very few Ferndale businesses were found to be making these types of mistakes. She noted that the Southeast Oakland Coalition would be congratulating all the businesses who passed the recent stings by sending them thank-you letters and window stickers declaring that they complied with the law.

“I think this is very important, because our focus as an organization is on youth substance-abuse prevention,” she said. “We want to make sure that people know what to watch out for when it comes to underage kids trying to purchase alcohol and tobacco, or businesses trying to sell it to them.”

Wilson agreed, but he also pointed out that Ferndale police try to be as lenient as possible whenever they encounter violations, especially if the business has a strong track record and the offense appears to be accidental.

“If there’s a violation, we usually just write up a citation rather than reporting them to the (MLCC),” he said. “Those sanctions from the state are really harsh and could result in the business closing down, and that’s not what we want. We understand that mistakes do happen; we’re not out there to persecute anybody or make them look bad. Most of the time, a citation and a warning will suffice — we don’t want to do anything to hurt their business.”

For more information on the Southeast Oakland Coalition, call (248) 752-8239 or visit www.seoak landcoalition.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Jeremy Selweski at jSelweski@candgnews.com or at (586)218-5004.