Cal Salzman, a fourth-year anthropology major, was walking past S.O.S. Liquor on his way home from dinner two weeks ago when an underage male approached him, asking for alcohol.
“Basically, I shouldn’t have bought it, but I was actually already kind of drunk and I was walking back from eating at McMasters,” Salzman said. “This kid — he didn’t even look that young, he looked like he was 20 or something — asked me for a six pack.”
Salzman agreed to buy the alcohol, unaware that the young man was an underage decoy working for the Isla Vista Foot Patrol. When he walked out of the liquor store with the beer, Salzman turned to give the minor his change and was confronted by the police.
“They kept threatening to take me to jail if I didn’t tell them what was going on,” Salzman said. “I still didn’t know it was a sting, so I lied and said he was my friend and didn’t have his I.D. on him. They were like ‘Well, what’s his name?’ So I said Robert — I just made some bullshit up. And they said I bought the alcohol with a marked sheriff’s bill and all this stuff trying to scare me.”
Salzman had just been caught by the county-sponsored minor decoy program. Funded by a $100,000 grant from the Alcoholic Beverage Control, the program aims to enforce the legal drinking age and reduce the solicitation of alcohol by minors. According to Lt. Brian Olmstead of the IVFP, the underage decoys are used throughout the county on an irregular basis, but at high-risk times — for instance, Memorial Day weekend — the decoys come out in force.
The penalty for furnishing alcohol to a minor is a misdemeanor, with fines of up to $1,000 and possible jail time. Olmstead said that while sentencing ultimately is up the discretion of a judge, receiving jail time is uncommon. The goal of the program, Olmstead said, is not to punish individuals.
“The hope, when we do any program like this to see if someone will purchase alcohol or a business will sell it, is total compliance,” Olmstead said. “We hope that people will turn people down, and businesses will check I.D.s and all that.”
Nevertheless, Salzman said the minor decoy program was the reason he committed the crime in the first place.
“I should look up the definition of entrapment, I know they do that kind of thing all the time, but if the cops hadn’t instigated it, I never would have committed a crime,” Salzman said. “I didn’t have the intention of buying minors alcohol.”
The decoys themselves are all unpaid volunteers, or “good samaritans,” as Olmstead put it.
According to Olmstead, the IVFP is able to fund the minor decoy program through a grant from the ABC, the state agency responsible for monitoring the sale of alcoholic beverages.
“Part of the funding for these programs comes through an ABC grant the department got for around $100,000,” Olmstead said. “The grant is specifically for alcohol enforcement.”