LAKE COMO/BELMAR, NJ — Enter any establishment selling alcoholic beverages in Lake Como or Belmar this summer and you may be standing next to an undercover police officer. That’s the warning state and local law enforcement officials are giving individuals under age 21 — and the impetus behind New Jersey’s Cops in Shops Summer Shore Initiative.

Designed to target underage drinking during the busy tourism season, the program each year awards grants to some 30 Jersey shore communities, including Belmar and Lake Como.

This year, the Belmar Police Department has received $10,560 in grants — $7,040 for Lake Como and $3,520 for Belmar — to conduct the program in two towns that become jam packed with day-trippers and seasonal residents from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

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Encompassing less than two square miles, both municipalities collectively have 12 bars or restaurants with liquor licenses and five liquor stores — popular destinations for visitors during the height of the summer season.

An annual initiative of the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), Cops in Shops involves placing police officers working undercover at bars and liquor stores to catch underage patrons trying to purchase alcoholic beverages or adults buying liquor for minors.

Now in its 23nd year, the program usually results in the arrest of several hundred people in participating communities — from Monmouth to Cape May County. Belmar and Lake Como have  been longtime participants.

Charges for providing alcohol to underage patrons are disorderly persons’ offenses, and penalties include fines of at least $500. Charges of underage drinking are also disorderly persons’ offenses, and penalties include fines, as well as suspension of drivers’ licenses.

Bars and liquor stores also risk the loss of their liquor licenses if they are found to be selling alcohol to underage drinkers having little or no regard to the law, according to officials.

TAPinto Belmar/Lake Como is Belmar and Lake Como’s only free daily newspaper. Accredited by the New Jersey Press Association, it is the official electronic newspaper of both municipalities. As a locally owned news organization, TAPinto through its advertisers is able to publish online, objective news 24/7 at no charge. Sign up for its free daily e-News, and follow it on Facebook and Twitter.

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