Police departments across the shore will be going undercover in liquor stores, trying to catch underage drinkers and people who buy alcohol for minors, as part of the summer Cops in Shops program.

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This year, 35 departments from Cape May to Neptune will be participating in the program, which has undercover officers posing as liquor store employees to catch underage drinkers and their enablers.

The program was originally designed in 1996 by the Foundation for the Advancement of Alcohol Responsibility, a national non-profit founded by distillers, and has led to more than 10,000 arrests.

During a press conference in Belmar Friday morning, New Jersey Division of Alcohol Beverage Control Director Michael Halfacre said they have seen increased participation from police departments each year.

"The first summer shore initiative had 12 towns participate and now were up to thirty five, and we're up by seven from last year," Halfacre said.

This summer, 35 shore area police departments are participating in the program, with approximately $81,000 in funding provided by the Division of Highway Traffic Safety. In 2013, 28 participating law enforcement agencies arrested 211 individuals during the crackdown.
In addition to communities directly on the beach, numerous "gateway communities" are part of the program as well.

"Towns that might not be considered a resort town like Belmar but are a gateway to the shore. I think Jackson is participating this year," Halfacre said.

Additional Cops In Shops programs are held during the fall around colleges.

Departments are allowed to offer shifts in the retail stores in addition to officer's regular shifts, they are then reimbursed by the state.

The U.S. Department of Health says that approximately 5,000 young people under the age of 21 die each year as a result of underage drinking. Nearly 40 percent of those deaths were from motor vehicle crashes where alcohol was a factor.

In New Jersey, 650 teen driver crashes occurred during the summer in Atlantic, Cape May, Ocean and Monmouth counties in the last decade

Though underage drinking has been declining in New Jersey according to Halfacre, the number of deaths from drunk driving continues to increase.

"I think that's a matter of more cars on the road and kids who do drink tend to binge," Halfacre said.