Police work to prevent teens from buying tobacco

bbashioum@demo-mo.comMarch 14, 2014 

Two Harrisonville business employees were issued court summons after they were caught selling cigarettes to a minor during a recent compliance check.

Missouri state law deems that it is unlawful for any person to sell, provide or distribute tobacco products to those under 18.

Harrisonville Police Detective Tom Shroyer instigated a 17-year-old female to enter 10 local shops that sell tobacco and to ask the store clerk on duty for cigarettes on March 6.

Compliance checks for alcohol and tobacco sales are a regular part of Shroyer’s work as a police officer, but he never uses the same underage person twice in case a store clerk could recognize them from a previous check.

Shroyer tries to recruit students that he knows who are interested in pursuing criminal justice careers in their future.

During the March 6 sting, the process began after a short briefing at the police station. After arriving at the first gas station on the list, the 17-year-old female stepped out of an unmarked vehicle with a $10 bill tucked in her pocket, as Shroyer, dressed in civilian clothing, follows her into the store.

The teen is nervous as she enters the first place on the list, Phillips 66, but Shroyer tells her that she’s safe and that he’s got her back.

Pretending to grab a pop, but all while keeping an eye at the check-out counter, Shroyer watches for a transaction between the sales clerk and his recruit.

As the minor approaches the counter, she asks for a pack of cigarettes. Shroyer watches closely as an employee asks for an ID and prepares for the transaction.

“I was way over by the fountain drinks with my back turned so I could see her out of the corner of my eye,” Shroyer said.

The teen was turned away when the store clerk checked her ID. Before Shroyer left the store, the clerk spotted the detective.

“She looked over and saw me. Luckily she didn’t recognize me until after the fact.,” Shroyer said.

He thanked the clerk for not selling.

Once back in the car, Shroyer lends a “good job” to the teen.

During the nearly two-hour compliance check process, a store clerk at Casey’s General Store, 2204 E. South St., and another at Walgreens, 505 S. Commercial St., did sell to the minor even after they checked the teen’s driver’s license.

When a clerk sells to the minor, Shroyer walks back out to his car to get his ticket book and pulls out his officer’s badge from within the layers of clothing he is wearing. He goes back into the store to inform the clerk that they’ve sold to a minor.

The manager on duty is informed of the situation and the employee is personally issued a summons to appear in court.

Police won’t go after the business with a citation or summons unless underage selling becomes a continual problem, Shroyer said.

However, it isn’t uncommon that a business may punish their employees in a way they see fit.

At the Casey’s store on South Street, a manager tells the employee who sold to the teen they will likely not have a job after the end of their shift.

Shroyer recently put on a training session on Jan. 6 for area business employees that offered advice on how to prevent minors from purchasing tobacco and alcohol at their place of business.

He told them to always check IDs and look for an indication that reads on driver’s license if a person is underage.

A number of Casey’s employees attended the meeting, including the manager on duty March 6 when the incident occurred. The manager indicated to Shroyer that the employee who had just sold to the minor was the only employee from their business not to attend.

During the sting, all of the businesses checked the girl’s ID. While two employees decided to sell, eight other businesses refused.

Those businesses included: Phillips 66, Meiner’s Market, Sinclair, Murphy U.S.A., QuikTrip and the Casey’s General Store locations on Commercial and Mechanic.

Shroyer said, it’s all an effort to keep illegal products out of the hands of teens.

Once the 10 business are checked, Shroyer took the teen home to her parents and explained how the compliance check unfolded.

The parents of the teens were shocked that two of the 10 business had actually sold to their daughter.

Their jaws dropped as Shroyer explained that there were store clerks who went through with the transactions, but appeared happy that at least most of the shops in town restrained.

Even if other tools are in place at the cash register, such as software that requires clerks to punch in the buyer’s date of birth, Shroyer says you can always rely on looking at the license and do the math to calculate a person’s age.

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