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OPPOSITION TO POLICE DECOYS GROWS BUSINESS FIGHTS TACTICS IN ENFORCING DRINKING AGE

Delicatessen owners and liquor and convenience stores are joining tavern operators in opposing the use of decoys by police to catch businesses selling alcohol to minors.

David A. Fabrizio, who owns Unc's Tavern on Ferry Avenue, said the tavern owners' ranks have been expanded to "two- or three-dozen" members from liquor sales-related businesses.

About a month ago, the tavern owners began organizing to oppose Operation Teenybopper, a Police Department operation that uses decoys to enforce underage drinking laws.

The bar owners are organizing in an effort to find ways of keeping underage patrons out of their establishments, Fabrizio said.

He said bar owners are "100 percent against" serving minors, but they feel they need more cooperation with the department.

He added that the owners agree with the intent of the operation but disagree with methods employed, such as the use of decoys.

The operation prompted Jacob J. Palillo, who operates The Late Show, to organize the tavern owners, Fabrizio said.

Both Jacob Palillo and his brother, Anthony C., who owns The Late Show, were out of town and could not be reached to comment. The two are the sons of City Councilman Jacob A. Palillo.

"Teenybopper brought it to a head," Fabrizio recalled. "Jake called this meeting together. That got us thinking, 'We're not always the guilty party. There's two sides to the story. Operation Teenybopper is really not solving the problem. Setting people up is not stopping them (underage persons) from coming in.' "

He said the bar owners want to work with the police, and he believes a better system of identification is needed.

He said the state's new "under 21" driver's licenses will help.

The department also needs "more stringent rules and regulations" for the issuing of police identification, he added.

Fabrizio said his establishment requires two forms of proof such as driver's license, police ID, passport, pistol permit, or any other document with a photo issued by the government.

The problem, he said, is that phony IDs are obtained easily. Fabrizio said they can be purchased in Canada for $25 or even obtained from the department simply by using the birth certificate of someone who is older than 21.

He said the phony IDs are sometimes hard to spot, but even when they are confiscated, the police say they can't do anything unless they witness minors using them.

Mayor Michael C. O'Laughlin said the city is willing to meet with three or four of the bar owners to discuss the issue.

"We support enforcement of the law," he said, but if the tavern owners have a suggestion, the city will listen.

He said "the police go in with a decoy" after receiving complaints about a particular establishment.

He said sometimes the complaints come from parents, but more often they are lodged by competing bar owners.

Fabrizio admits that happens but didn't believe it happens as often as the mayor indicated.

In a similar operation in Cheektowaga last week, several store owners said police had been unfair in using a 17-year-old girl as a decoy to purchase alcohol and cigarettes.

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