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Metro officers busting underage drinkers at First Friday

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Officer Gerald Jackson writes a citation for an 18 year-old in possession of alcohol. Officer Gerald Jackson writes a citation for an 18 year-old in possession of alcohol.
Officers Cynthia Williams (left) and Gerald Jackson (right) patrol First Friday. Officers Cynthia Williams (left) and Gerald Jackson (right) patrol First Friday.
Police use a modified flashlight that can detect the presence of alcohol in the air. Police use a modified flashlight that can detect the presence of alcohol in the air.

Is it a party for arts and culture, or a babysitting service? That's what some are asking when it comes to First Friday in downtown Las Vegas.

Minors drink alcohol and think they can get away with it. To their surprise, though, a few people are watching.

"For the most part, I believe people come out to have a good time. At the same time, there are people making bad choices," said Officer Gerald Jackson, area command intel officer for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.

Officers Jackson and Cynthia Williams were on a special shift. Their job on the night of May 3 was strictly to find minors with alcohol.

"We'll go up to someone that happens to be - they look like they're underage. We'll ask them for their ID," Jackson said.

They started at a convenience store just a block away from the festivities - a spot, they say, that is known for alcohol buyers wanting to stock up. Not even a minute after their arrival, one group caught their eye.

An 18-year-old on probation is caught red-handed with a case of beer.

"You're looking at a citation right now. You can't even be in possession," Jackson told the teen.

He got a misdemeanor ticket and was released. He'll have to show up to court next month, where a judge will decide the proper punishment, however.

For anyone oolder than 18 years old, they are free to go. If an offender is younger than 18, a parent is called to pick up their child.

Another Metro officer, John Schutt, has done that before.

"Some of these kids tell me their parents drop them off here, and kind of - First Friday is their babysitter for the night," he said. "And this is the last place a parent would want to send an underage kid to hang out for the night just because there's a lot of alcohol down here."

It wasn't hard for our FOX5 camera to spot a filled cup - everywhere we turned.

First Friday managing partner Joy Vanas told FOX5 efforts are made not to sell alcohol to minors at the event. He wants people to have their fun within the law.

"Any time you get tens of thousands of people together, you're going to have some things go wrong or somebody's going to do something that maybe they shouldn't have, but we deter that as much as possible," Vanas said.

First Friday organizers work closely with Metro police to keep the officers at the event at no extra expense to them.

The officers say what they don't want is one of the minors driving a car or getting into other, more serious trouble.

The patrol is funded by a federal grant called EUDL, which is an acronym for Enforcing Underage Drinking Laws.

Three hours into the officers' five-hour shift, they've stopped about 80 people. Most presented identification, checked out and moved on.

Others were not so lucky.

"How old are you?" Williams asked a young man. "21," he responded, adding he did not have his ID. After a few moments of questioning, he admitted he is only 20 years old.

"It's going to result in a citation," Jackson told FOX5.

Possession or drinking - it does not matter. But, if there's any doubt, the cops have a discreet way of finding out.

"We have this flashlight, right here. They'll blow into this hole in the side, and from there, there's an indicator telling me there's alcohol at least present," Jackson said as he showed FOX5 the device.

The readings cannot be used in court, so for now it's just an extra tool - and some get a kick out of it.

Others, however, stop laughing once they're caught.

"Are you really 19?" Williams asked after confronting another young man holding a cup of beer. "I am 19. You want to see my (expletive) ID?" he fired back.

When asked if he had any more alcohol, the teen reached inside his backpack and removed what was left of a boxed case.

"Where did you get it from?" Williams asked, to which the teen replied, "My mom's kitchen."

When the officers started writing the citation, he got angrier.

"I had a (expletive) beer at First Friday. Throw me in jail for a week," the teen said.

Jackson is used to excuses, including parents who claim that underage drinking is a rite of passage and not worth the time spent on this patrol.

Between this team and another two officers, eight minors were caught with alcohol. It is a small dent in what they say will always be an issue.

That's why they'll be back next month.

"I do believe that people will probably continue to enjoy their alcohol at a young age, and it's unfortunate," Jackson said, adding that they hope to make a difference any way they can.

Metro police says it also does similar enforcement patrols at other popular events. Most of the minors cited eventually understood why they were stopped. Metro says there have been a few cases where an individual was caught more than once, though.

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