Howard County police wrapped up a check of county liquor stores last week by citing five businesses for selling alcohol to minors.
A police cadet visited 14 stores during the inspections on July 1 and Thursday. Five stores sold alcohol to the cadet, who was under the legal drinking age of 21, without asking for identification, police said.
The stores cited were Oakland Mills Liquors; J.K.'s Pub, Wilde Lake; Owen Brown Liquors; and Boulevard Supermarket and 999 Bar, both in Jessup, police said.
Police issued each store a written warning.
Six of the nine establishments that did not sell to minors had been cited in an inspection last year. At that time, 17 of 20 stores checked by police were issued written warnings.
Cpl. Mike Sherman, Liquor Inspector, said last year's checks were successful because they reduced the amount of alcohol distributed to juveniles.
"Everybody learned from that," Corporal Sherman said. "Now stores are a little more cautious."
The checks are intended to uncover weaknesses in a store's sellingpractices and policies. An inspection may not make juveniles stop drinking, but it does make it harder for them to obtain alcohol, police said.
In a typical inspection, an underage cadet is sent into a store about the same time as an officer in plainclothes.
When the cadet buys the alcohol, the officer witnesses the transaction and notifies the store's owner of the offense at the time.
If a liquor store is caught selling alcohol to a minor during a second inspection within a year of a written warning, the store is charged withillegally serving to minors.
The next step is an administrative hearing before the county liquor board, which could lead to the suspension of a store's liquor license, police said.
Most of the stores that sell to minors do not willfully do so, police said, noting that store owners and cashiers sometimes can become careless or forgetful.
"It's just usually a mistake," Corporal Sherman said. "But they get more cautious because they don't want to lose their livelihood."
The police department has other liquor inspections planned throughout the year.