Clad in Levis, white tennis shoes and a long-sleeved shirt, Brian Barre walked into the C & S Liquor Store on Rosecrans Avenue in Norwalk and picked up a six-pack of Stroh's beer.
The 19-year-old, who has short hair parted on the side and a retainer on his teeth, then paid for the beer.
Minutes later, with the beer in a brown paper sack, he walked over to a charcoal gray Chevrolet Cavalier and said, "Bingo!"
The youth had just taken part in the latest attempt by the Norwalk sheriff's substation to stem alcohol abuse among teen-agers: a "sting" operation that aims to crack down on liquor stores selling alcohol to minors.
"We're going right to the source. I doubt we'll be able to stop it. But at least we can get some of the people to start asking for ID and live up to the conditions of their liquor license," said sheriff's Detective Randy Hedges, who mingled with customers inside the store to watch Barre's transaction.
Hedges and sheriff's Detective Mike Winters have conducted five sting operations since August, the latest taking place last week at stores in Norwalk, Santa Fe Springs, La Mirada and unincorporated areas of Whittier.
One detective would go inside with Barre and observe what took place while the other waited outside in an unmarked car. If there was a sale, the two detectives identified themselves and issued a misdemeanor citation for selling alcohol to a minor.
Last week, 5 out of 12 stores checked sold liquor to Barre, a community service officer assigned to the Norwalk substation.
"Our average is 44%. We'd like it to be zero," said Winters. "We were surprised the numbers were that great."
Ki Yung Lee, the owner of C & S Liquor, said in an interview this week that one of his employees sold the liquor to Barre because he "looked old enough."
"I don't know what happened. He didn't check ID. I check ID all the time," Lee said. "I told him next time be careful. What can I do?"
The deputies have received help in their sting operation from GRADE, the Grass Roots Alcohol and Drug Education Project. The organization provided $200 to buy the liquor in the sting operations. About $20 is necessary for one night.
"We don't want our kids purchasing alcohol," said Clara Kamerer, a volunteer with GRADE, an organization sponsored by the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District and the national PTA.
Sheriff's Sgt. Jack Kuner said he approached GRADE about funding the operations after the first sting was conducted with money out of the deputies' pockets.
"Working together is a neat way to do this," said Kuner, who noted that the two organizations have similar goals.
Besides the lack of money, the Norwalk substation had been hindered in conducting this kind of operation because it did not want just anybody as a decoy. The addition of the intern-community service officer position in April, 1985, helped solve that, Kuner said.
Assisting sheriff's deputies with stings, or other specialty operations, is listed under the duties of interns, said Barre, who said he wants to be a deputy when he turns 21. Interns also write parking tickets and assist in report writing.
Barre said he is the deputies' "best shot. I'm the youngest and I look the youngest" of the four interns assigned to the Norwalk substation. Besides, he added, "I enjoy doing it. It's fun."
A slender youth with a ruddy complexion, Barre said he shaves as close as he can when he knows he is going to go out on a sting operation. "That way I don't look older."
Last weekend's operation included a stop at C & S, deputies said, because a Norwalk City Council member had complained about teen-agers hanging out around the store. When Barre came out of the store, he said he thought the customer in line ahead of him was also a minor.
Winters went to the end of the parking lot and told the five youths to get out of their car. Winters found a bag of beer in the car and took it and the 17-year-old driver inside. Both deputies stood inside writing out citations and taking information down while curious onlookers stood by. The 17-year-old was arrested, counseled and released in 10 minutes. (Winters later explained that minors receive an entry on their record for the offense--possession of alcohol--but police do not have to take them to the station for booking.)
Vickie Welch, a supervising special investigator with the state Alcoholic Beverage Control department office in El Monte, said that if a store sells alcohol to a minor, the next day the news spreads all over the minor's school campus. The store becomes "a watering hole for kids who come in droves," Welch said.
When the department receives a citation written by law enforcement officers, it will file an accusation against the store, she said. The standard penalty for the first offense of selling alcohol to a minor is a 15-day suspension of the liquor license. But the department often lets the store pay a fine in lieu of suspension. The fine ranges from $300 to $1,500, depending on gross sales and other factors, Welch said.