One might expect a package store to be on the lookout for minors using fake IDs, but few people would expect minors to bust a package store for selling alcohol to them.
But in Connecticut, students do exactly that. This year, as of mid-August, students have gone undercover and completed 412 compliance checks, with 97 resulting in a bust. And there are more checks scheduled for the remainder of the year.
“We train, transport, and give students everything they need to go undercover, and we still have about a 25 percent rate of stores selling to minors,” said Rachel Bruno, the state coordinator for Students Against Destructive Decisions, or SADD.
Claudette Carveth, spokeswoman for the state Department of Consumer Protection, said the student volunteers go undercover for the compliance checks.
“It provides useful insights for youth and fosters meaningful and positive connections among the youths, the police, and our agents,” she said.
In 2012, 788 package stores in the state were subject to compliance checks, and 163 of those stores sold to minors.
The compliance checks, as well as other SADD projects, are designed to make a positive change in towns and cities while educating students about the dangers of under-aged drinking.
“The transformation with the kids doing [the checks]…their confidence goes up,” Bruno said.
“They get comfortable working with law enforcement, there’s mutual respect and it provides a unique experience … while making a good change in the community.”
According to data, Connecticut teens show some of the most risky behavior in the country when it comes to underage binge drinking. In 2009-10, according to the Kids Count Data Center, Connecticut ranked fourth out of the 50 states in binge drinking, which is defined by the center as “drinking five or more drinks on the same occasion” at least once in the past 30 days.
There are signs, however, that rates of drinking and binge drinking are declining. The 2011 Connecticut Youth Behavior Survey found that the percentage of high school students who reported drinking alcohol in the past 30 days has steadily declined, from 52.6 percent in 1997 to 41.5 percent in 2011.
The survey found a similar decline in binge drinking, from 31.2 percent in 1997 to 22.3 percent in 2011, the most recent year for which data is available.
Groups like SADD organize school and community activities to try to curb underage drinking, including compliance checks and extra party patrols around the holidays.
“Each chapter really, they do their own thing,” she said. “It’s based on the resources and funding available, the chapter, and leadership and advisor. They can really take on whatever issue they want, and we help provide strategies for them.”
Krystle Blake, the SADD advisor in Meriden who is also a prevention professional with Rushford, a substance abuse and mental health center, said SADD’s aim is to get noticed and raise awareness.
“The kids design shirts saying things like ‘You Booze, You Lose,’ “ Blake said. “We also have parents make shirts that say things like ‘Don’t Drink and Drive, Stay Alive.’ ”
“The SADD chapters try to create a lot of attention-promoting, positive activities,” said Sheryl Sprague, a prevention manager at Rushford who leads underage drinking task forces in Middletown and Meriden. “We feel if the message is coming from the youth themselves, it’s more likely to be taken seriously and listened to.”
Some of SADD’s efforts are funded by grants from Rushford.
“We also fund enforcement, so we give the police money to do party patrols, especially around prom, graduation and the fourth of July,” Sprague said.
Sprague and Blake said they feel strongly that their prevention efforts are working in many towns.
“I’ve been involved for almost 10 years now and the kids know the laws,” Blake said. “They’re fully aware. They know the risks, the kids are definitely aware of it and that’s increasing more and more every year.
She said programs are more effective when teens work with other teens.
“Kids listen to kids, so letting them take the lead makes them feel valued and important, which is huge,” she said.
Nina Godlewski, a C-HIT intern, is a student at Northeastern University.