Underage Drinking Arrest

March 2017

The New York State DMV cracks down on underage drinking and fake IDs with Operation Prevent

The message of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles’ Operation Prevent is simple: Underage drinking and using a fake ID are not worth it.

“Underage drinking has real consequences, and sometimes it is a matter of life and death,” said Terri Egan, acting Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee (GTSC) chair and New York DMV executive deputy commissioner, in a July 2016 press release. “Leave the fake IDs at home and avoid the possibility of lifelong consequences due to one bad decision.”

Operation Prevent, which began in 2005, is a collaboration among the New York State DMV, law enforcement, bar owners, the State Liquor Authority (SLA) and GTSC to deter underage drinking, keep roadways safe and combat the use of counterfeit IDs. To do this, Operation Prevent investigations are conducted year-round at bars, concert venues and other places underage patrons are likely to gather. ‘Last-drink locations,’ which are tracked by law enforcement agencies when those under 21 are arrested for DWIs (driving while intoxicated), also are heavily targeted, says Owen McShane, director of investigations, New York State DMV.

NYDMV Operation Prevent
Lieutenant Governor of New York Kathy Hochul joins New York State DMV Director of Investigations Owen McShane to review the investigative process on fake IDs.

Collaboration is key

The collaboration among DMV investigators and law enforcement is essential to Operation Prevent’s success. When operating a sting on their own, DMV investigators would only be able to make about 10 arrests. A sting in October 2016 in Rochester, New York, resulted in 19 counterfeit IDs being confiscated. While DMV investigators identified the fake IDs by examination and with the help of secondary authentication equipment like a high-speed scanner, state troopers issued tickets and handled any arrests. “By combining forces, we get a lot better results,” says McShane.

This past summer, with the support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Operation Prevent launched numerous coordinated stings during the summer concert season. For example, at Nikon at Jones Beach Theater on Long Island, park police and DMV investigators made 43 arrests for underage drinking and possession of fake IDs. Twenty of those individuals were hospitalized for alcohol poisoning before being released to their parents.

“It’s a fact that many college students participate in underage drinking,” says McShane. “We’re just trying to change their behavior, not ruin them for life.” First-time offenders found to be using fake IDs with the intent of purchasing alcohol can have their license revoked for a minimum of 90 days or up to one year, in addition to paying a fine.

Knowledge matters

Education plays a key role in the success of Operation Prevent. The DMV and SLA work together to educate bar owners and staff of licensed establishments about new security features included on driver’s licenses and how to identify a counterfeit. Many bar owners and the SLA have even purchased their own authentication equipment.

A number of universities have asked DMV investigators to speak not only about underage drinking, but also about the dangers of identity theft since the majority of counterfeit IDs are now made overseas (many in Russia and China). When individuals place an order for a fake ID, they provide their real identification. This puts them at risk of having their identity stolen in the future, says McShane.

DMV investigators also share information about counterfeit IDs with AAMVA and other jurisdictions as much as possible. For example, some states’ licenses are more frequently counterfeited than others, says McShane. The NY DMV will share the fake IDs obtained through Operation Prevent stings so states can understand how they’re being produced. “It helps them make modifications to the document to prevent people from counterfeiting it as easily,” he says.

“Operation Prevent’s results are impressive,” McShane concludes. The goal in 2017 is to have more stings throughout the state in order to further its message: Underage drinking and using a fake ID are not worth it.