The 30-year history of banning Atlanta police from working at strip clubs

Police responded to a shooting outside the Onyx strip club in northwest on Cheshire Bridge Road last June. (John Spink/john.spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

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Police responded to a shooting outside the Onyx strip club in northwest on Cheshire Bridge Road last June. (John Spink/john.spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Department is considering a change to the policy to combat gun violence

Nearly 30 years ago, the killing of a local strip club owner sent shockwaves through metro Atlanta when investigators later uncovered a vast criminal burglary ring involving off-duty police officers.

Six Atlanta-area police officers were arrested following the botched robbery and fatal shooting of Henry Lamar Jeffcoat, the owner of Goldrush Showbar. The 1993 investigation led to several Atlanta Police Department officers being hit with burglary charges, with officials saying they were part of an extensive criminal enterprise tied to their off-duty work, according to Atlanta Journal-Constitution archives.

With three current or former Goldrush employees also indicted, Atlanta’s police chief at the time made a change in APD’s policy that’s still in place today: Officers aren’t allowed to work extra jobs or off-duty shifts at or outside any of the city’s famed strip clubs.

“Officers are allowed to work at almost any other establishment,” APD Assistant Chief Darin Schierbaum told City Council members during a meeting on Monday. “This (policy) is referring to strip clubs.”

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The department is currently considering changing its rules to allow off-duty officers to work at strip clubs — referred to as “adult entertainment establishments” in the APD handbook. The clubs have become an integral part of the city’s culture, nightlife and tourism scene.

Now, the department’s policy has become part of the conversation about reducing violent crime in Atlanta, with a handful of high-profile shootings in recent years linked to strip clubs. In January, for example, an argument that started inside the popular Blue Flame strip club in northwest Atlanta escalated to gunfire in the parking lot, killing a 21-year-old California man.

“Most of the problems are not inside the establishments themselves. They’re in the parking lot,” said Councilman Dustin Hillis, who called the rule “archaic” and supports changing it.

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A man was shot and killed Wednesday morning, Jan. 26, 2022 after an argument at the Blue Flame strip club in northwest Atlanta escalated to gunfire in the parking lot. Club owners have pushed for the city to provide additional patrols and protection. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

A man was shot and killed Wednesday morning, Jan. 26, 2022 after an argument at the Blue Flame strip club in northwest Atlanta escalated to gunfire in the parking lot. Club owners have pushed for the city to provide additional patrols and protection. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
A man was shot and killed Wednesday morning, Jan. 26, 2022 after an argument at the Blue Flame strip club in northwest Atlanta escalated to gunfire in the parking lot. Club owners have pushed for the city to provide additional patrols and protection. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Schierbaum said the department has reached out to every police agency in the country that allows officers to work extra jobs at adult entertainment spots, defined in APD’s policy as “any place of business or commercial establishment wherein the entertainment or activity therein consists of nude or substantially nude persons dancing ... or engaged in movements of a sexual nature.”

Police Chief Rodney Bryant is reviewing the other departments’ policies “to determine what safeguards are in place” before making a decision on the rule, Schierbaum said.

The discussion follows a push from strip clubs to get more security support from the city.

“The owners have come to me for years now, years and years, asking for police protection, or to pay police off-duty, just like every other establishment is allowed to do so,” said Councilwoman Marci Collier Overstreet, who represents a southwest Atlanta district. “I think the blue lights really do matter. That’s an outdated reason why they are not allowed.”

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Police respond to emergency calls at strip clubs but are barred from working at the clubs or in their parking lot off-duty. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Police respond to emergency calls at strip clubs but are barred from working at the clubs or in their parking lot off-duty. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
Police respond to emergency calls at strip clubs but are barred from working at the clubs or in their parking lot off-duty. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

The 1993 slaying of Jeffcoat, the strip club owner, reverberated through metro Atlanta’s police departments and sparked a conversation about officers having side jobs, commonly referred to as “moonlighting” at the time.

Officers said it’s critical that they be able to work off-duty jobs to make extra cash, though some called for a stauncher crackdown of the moonlighting system. At the time, APD went as far as to bar officers from working at any bar or nightclub, AJC archives show, but that portion of the policy was later rolled back.

APD now requires its officers to register and report any extra jobs they take.

— AJC Digital Storytelling Editor Charles Minshew contributed to this report.