Over 100 teenagers spent a recent Saturday outside liquor stores across the state of California, asking adults to buy them alcohol. An outbreak of teen drinking? Just the opposite. These kids were part of a statewide effort to keep alcohol away from the under-21 set.
Volunteer Youth Decoys are recruited from high schools, sold on the idea that they can help "clean up the streets." The teens just need to complete a brief training, and get their parents to sign off on it.
In a recent coordinated day-long effort with over 100 police and sheriffs departments across California, young decoys netted 544 arrests... and got a unique window into a possible career.
I rode along in an unmarked car to watch the action. At one point, we were driving towards a startled man in a black Chevy. The sergeant jumped out of the driver’s seat and ran towards the suspect on foot, while out of sight officers in bulletproof vests swarmed in, cutting off the man’s escape routes.
His crime: buying a six pack of Coors Light for an undercover teen.
“I’m the decoy-- I’m the guy that messes up people’s days I guess," says 18-year-old Daniel Gardener.
Gardener, who is plainclothes and not wearing a bulletproof vest, is undercover with the Alameda County Sheriffs. The officers just arrested a middle-aged man in a sweat suit. The violator, a guy named Fred, is the fourth person busted for buying alcohol for a minor at this location in the past hour and a half.
Fred has his reasons, as he explains to Gardener, “I’m gonna tell you why I did it. You’re the same height as my son… and you look kinda like him-- you're white, though. But you look kinda like him-- same build, you feel me?”
Even though Fred is facing a possible $1,000 fine and 24 hours of community service, he praises the Youth Decoy who set him up saying, “Hey thank you young man. You’re a good actor, dude.”
Let’s meet another cast member of this youth production. Lisset Araugio is 16, but is no stranger to the game. “They call me, ‘the veteran’,” she says.
This is Araugio’s third year as a youth decoy, where she works on tobacco stings -- going into corner-stores and buying flavored cigars, called Swishers.
“I usually walk in the stores, I give them a smile and I say, ‘Oh, can I get a Swisher Sweet?’ And then I say, ‘Please.’ And if they give them to me, I say, ‘Thank you, and have a nice day.’ And I smile.”
That’s cold blooded. Evidently, being a youth decoy means putting duty before empathy.
“This lady, she didn’t speak any English -- I was talking to her in Spanish,” recalls Araugio. “And then when she got the citation, she was like, ‘Can you please tell them that they’re going to kick me out of my job because I did this?’ And I was like, ‘I’m sorry, but next time you should be more careful.’ And she’s like, ‘Please help me!’ And she got so mad she started crying."
All that drama, plus a $200 to $1000 fine may seem like a severe penalty for selling tobacco to a minor. Back at the alcohol decoy operation, Sergeant Scheuller says these stings sometimes catch people engaged in worse crimes.
“A lot of times, what we find is the people that are willing to buy alcohol for a minor -- a lot of times they’ve been involved in other criminal activity,” says Scheuller.
According to the statewide agency that sponsored these operations, about 10 percent of people cuffed today actually went to jail on crimes ranging from drunk driving, illegal drug possession, to resisting arrest. Apart from sending people to jail, Sergeant Scheuller says the Youth Decoy program also brings some kids into the force.
“So maybe you might wanna think of pursuing a career in law enforcement?" Sergeant Scheuller asks me with a nudge. "You could do this as your job. And get paid. It’s the best job in the world if you ask me.”
Decoys like Daniel Gardener don’t need persuading. He intends to be a sheriff. He knows some kids who have gone from the decoy program straight into the police academy.
For me, trapping somebody who thinks they’re doing me a favor is too much. It makes me feel callous and dishonest.
But Fred, the guy who bought the six pack, says a citation does get the message across: “Everybody makes mistakes in life, this was mine, you don’t have to worry about me ever doing this again."
This story was produced by Youth Radio.
On April 24, 2013 an eight-story factory building collapsed in Bangladesh, in a complex called "Rana Plaza."
1,129 workers died. More than 2,500 were injured, many seriously so.
The factory made clothing for companies all over the world, from Walmart to Benetton.
The BBC's Akbar Hossain covered the collapse and the aftermath. In the year since, he's spoken with workers and factory owners. He told Marketplace's David Gura about the past year in Bangladesh's garment industry:
Q: What sort of tangible changes have you seen to these factories in Bangladesh? Do they look different?
To be very honest, the situation and the physical infrastructure [of most factories] has not changed yet. Workers [still] are alleging that they're working in very dangerous conditions.
There are factories in Bangladesh that are very compliant...they meet all the standards of international buyers. But there are many factories which don't even comply with the minimum standards in Bangladesh. And thousands of workers are working there -- there's a problem.
Q: This is an issue that attracted so much attention globally. There was a compensation fund that was intended to raise at least $40 million for victims. This hasn't happened yet. Why?
Bangladeshi garment owners are saying they couldn't insure the factories safety and standards because internatioanl buyers always want cheaper garments from Bangladesh. So they have to maintain the factories in cheaper ways.
Bangladesh's garment industry is a huge industry for Bangladesh. It earns $20 billion every year. More than 5 million people are directly employed in the garment industry, and there are [many] other people who have links.
Q: Rana Plaza did contract work for some big western companies, like Mango and Benetton. Have you seen these businesses travelling more to Bangladesh? Taking a closer look since this happened?
The Rana Plaza disaster was a wake up call for the Bangladeshi garment indsustry, and it was a wake up call for international garments and brands also. They are coming to Bangladesh. I've talked to Trade Union Leaders, and they are telling me, yes, international buyers are now more serious. They're trying to maximize they're profit, but now they're focusing on the safety issues. They're actually pressing garment factory owners to insure a safer workplace.
So things are changing, things have worked, but things are going very slow.
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