LONG BEACH — The bartender mixed a gin and tonic while she talked about cocaine.
"I'm from Kenosha, Wis., and I would not work in a place where they use drugs. My mother would kill me," said Deborah Ogle, who tended bar one night last week at the Players Sports Club in downtown Long Beach.
Earlier this month, police arrested four Players employees and charged them with selling cocaine to undercover police officers on seven separate occasions in April and May. Those charged included two bartenders, one barmaid and a maintenance worker.
Over on the southeast side of town, at the Chart Room Tavern in Naples, another bartender talked with a reporter about cocaine.
Easy to Purchase Cocaine
"Coke can be bought and sold in any bar in Long Beach," said bartender Debby Deane.
Earlier this month, police arrested a Chart Room bartender and charged him with three counts of selling cocaine in April and May.
At Bogarts, an upscale nightclub in Marina Pacifica, the manager said he had no idea any cocaine deals had been made there. But one of his bartenders and two patrons were arrested earlier this month and charged with seven counts of selling cocaine from March to June.
The manager, however, said the police were wrong to label his club a public nuisance.
Seeks to Revoke Licenses
"It's like shutting down the Dodgers because Steve Howe was doing some blow," said manager Chuck Armstrong.
The Players Sports Club, the Chart Room Tavern and Bogarts are the targets of a new police tactic in its war on drugs. This month, police asked city officials to revoke the business licenses of all three establishments.
In making the requests, police said the three bars were a public nuisance because they were the sites of repeated cocaine sales.
In interviews, however, owners and lawyers for the clubs said they were unaware of the drug deals. They said that the club owners were being unjustly punished for the possible mistakes of a few employees and patrons.
The City Council will hold future public hearings on whether the clubs' business licenses should be revoked.
The request to close the three bars was made at the close of an five-month undercover police operation that with one exception--the Players Sports Club in downtown Long Beach--targeted bars in the city's southeast section.
The undercover operation resulted in arrests of 17 persons who were charged with selling cocaine at nine city bars. The three bars were singled out for possible revocation of business licenses because they were the sites of repeated drug sales, police said.
Detective Gary Halliday, who coordinated the undercover operation, said that police were looking for drugs in Southeast Long Beach bars because "that section is the more affluent part of town and people socialize more in bars."
In poorer sections of the city, drugs commonly are dealt on the streets, Halliday said, although he added that he believes cocaine is also available at bars in other sections of the city.
Police, though, chose the Southeast section for the undercover operation because the area had not been investigated in several years and because of the characteristics of the four young undercover agents used in the undercover investigation.
Three of the four undercover officers were white, and those officers "would not have fit in" at bars in downtown and Westside sections, Halliday said. In downtown and West Long Beach, "those bars basically are ethnic bars--black, Oriental and Mexican," Halliday said.
Almost all of the cocaine sales were small amounts, between one and three grams, Halliday said. The cocaine, all of which was powder, typically sold for $100 a gram, Halliday said.
Bar Closed Last Year
City police last year closed one bar where they said drugs had been sold. The bar also was cited for building violations. The success in that case, police said, prompted them to try to close down other bars that they see as public nuisances.
The police offensive is part of a new crackdown on drugs that includes continuing undercover investigations of street sales of drugs, police said.
Police say they also will take advantage of a recently passed state law that allows the city prosecutor to declare cocaine "rock houses" and residences where drugs are sold a public nuisance.
Under the law, the city can sue the owners for allowing such a condition to exist, requiring the owner to evict drug dealers. A violation of the law is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum $1,000 fine and up to a year in the county jail.
Reason for Crackdown
Previously, declaring a rock house a public nuisance was prosecuted by the county district attorney's office, which was overloaded with similar requests form other cities, police said.
In an interview, a top city police official explained why city police are "getting tougher on drugs."
"Drugs are the most severe problem facing our society today. Drugs kill and destroy everything people love and work for," said Cmdr. Jerry Lance, who runs the police narcotics, vice and crime suppression programs.
Lance estimated that drugs account for more than half of the crimes committed in the city, including drug sales, crimes committed by people under the influence of drugs and crimes committed by people supporting drug habits.
Owners and lawyers for the bars targeted by the police, however, said that in their zeal to arrest drug dealers, police were trampling on the rights of bar owners.
"There doesn't seem to be any logical basis for proceeding against Bogarts license," said Charles Gangloff, a Long Beach lawyer for Bogarts.
Gangloff said that the owners were unaware of any illegal activity at Bogarts, and that after a bartender was arrested, he was fired.