Police in Salt Lake City hiring ‘beer decoys’, purveyors of booze react

Posted at 9:58 PM, Oct 05, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-06 00:00:28-04

SALT LAKE CITY – A job posting seeking people between the ages of 18 and 20 to help police catch clerks who sell alcohol to minors is causing some controversy.

The position is called a “beer decoy”, and Salt Lake City Police Department officials said the program is their way to make sure stores aren’t selling booze to those who are underage.

Kayten Choi works at Chegoya Market, and he said he disagrees with the policy.

“I found that very interesting ...that they hire people to do this, and I think really, I don’t think it’s necessary to hire people,” Choi said.

The title for the job is hourly beer decoy. According to the job posting, the police are looking for people ages 18, 19 and 20. The requirements also include passing a criminal background check and a drug screen.

Sgt. Robin Heiden of the Salt Lake City Police Department spoke about the work.

“They’ll go in try to buy beer, they are either able to or they are not, and if the person sells them beer, the clerk is then cited, given a misdemeanor citation,” Heiden said.

According to police, these decoys will mainly be targeting convenience stores and grocery stores that sell beer--just like the one Choi works at every day.

When asked if Choi felt police were trying to trick employees, the response was: “Ah, half and half yea, half and half…They are trying to see if you are actually trying to follow the law, and at the same time, in the other hand, they want to get us."

Others said the position of beer decoy needs to be eliminated. Tony Moulton is one such business owner.

“I think it’s gone a little too far,” Moulton said. “I think they are actually trying to get people to mess up, and just trapping people almost.”

When asked if he thought it was a form of entrapment, Moulton said: “I do, I think, yeah. Because they are purposely trying to do something that’s not legal, and catch us letting them do it.”

Heiden explained the procedure a beer decoy is expected to follow.

“These kids go in with their normal ID,” she said. “Its non-confrontational. If they are told ‘no’, they immediately walk out, so it’s not meant  to be an entrapment. It’s meant for safety, for kids under 21.”

The decoys make $11.33 an hour and are expected to work 4 to 8 hours per day, two to four days a month. And they are under constant supervision of police department detectives. The program is funded through the Easy Program, which is designed to eliminate alcohol sales to youth.

“Anytime you look at someone selling alcohol to a minor, that’s a problem--and this is kind of something to keep reminding businesses that we’re still out there, we've been doing it for a very long time,” Heiden said.