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Shelby Count Sheriff’s Office fighting underage drinking

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — We`re riding with the Shelby County Sheriff`s Office.

"Whiskey four go ahead," Responds Sergeant David Rook, of the Shelby County Sheriff's Office, into his radio, "check, uh we going on to number 4."

He`s activated his lights and sirens because a bartender at a popular east Memphis restaurant just made an illegal sale.

Sergeant Rook is on the way to help with backup.

An undercover deputy watched the bartender attempt to serve alcohol to an underage buyer.

Rook is one of the several deputies conducting a beer sting.

"Anywhere that will sell alcohol," Sergeant Rook said, "all of your liquor stores, anywhere that sells beer, any type of alcohol at all."

The Sheriff`s Office wants you to see how it works.

Two operatives, as they`re called, under 21-years-old are working with the Sheriff`s Office.

An operative goes into a business and tries to buy alcohol.

Not far behind them, an undercover deputy is standing by watching in case a sale is made.

The operatives aren`t trying to hide their age.

There are no disguises, they use their real IDs showing they`re real ages.

"If they look at it and go hang on a second how old are you?" Sergeant Rook said. "They`re gonna tell them their real age!"

In tonight`s case, they`re 18 and 19.

For privacy, we`re not allowed to show you the operatives and Sergeant Rook has asked us not to name the businesses they go into.

"We`re not out to humiliate anybody, we`re not out to hurt anybody`s feelings, we`re not out to be the gotcha squad," Sergeant Rook explained.

WREG asked what they did want to be.

"All we want is for people to follow the law," Sergeant Rook shared. "We want people who own these establishments to check IDs. We want them to card folks. You`re either old enough to drink or you`re not old enough to drink. It`s really that simple."

On any given night a list of places that sell alcohol is pre-compiled.

This night we`re hitting spots around Poplar Avenue in East Memphis.

Two teams split up to cover more ground.

"Team one going in," communicating by radio.

A team of deputies standing by in their vehicles, ready to go if a sale is made.

In many cases, the business does the right thing.

"Is team 2 still at 5?" Asked Sergeant Rook.

"Negative it`s no sale, checked ID."

But we found 8 of the 27 places we visited in a 5-hour span agreed to sell the alcohol.

Either they didn`t ask the operative for an ID at all or they looked at the ID and even though it clearly says the operative is underage they still sold to them.

"It`s a sale," Sergeant Rook said.

For most of the sting the deputies hang back they want to stay hidden but once a sale is made.

A swarm of police men move in to make sure nothing goes wrong.

"They`ll do a sweep usually around the front of the store, gather the employees, we want to make sure we`re not running into weapons, things like that," Sergeant Rook explained.

"We want to make sure it`s safe for everybody. So we`ll kinda clear the area. We`ll let them know what we did. We`ll take pictures of the evidence, the money, the receipt, what was bought and we`ll usually write a misdemeanor citation. It`s a misdemeanor offense."

A misdemeanor offense that results in a hefty fine for the server and the establishment they work for has to go before a board to see if they get slapped with a fine.

But Rook says these stings, paid for by grants from the state, could help save a life or prevent other problems.

The CDC says in 2010 there were 189,000 people under 21 who went to the ER from injuries or alcohol-related problems.

The next time someone underage tries to buy Rook hopes the seller and their fellow coworkers will think twice and will take a hard look at their ID.

"I would much rather have people just do the right thing. It all comes down to manners and doing the right thing. That`s what 90% of our laws are."