- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 5, 2003

A Virginia Senate committee has passed an amendment to the budget that would prohibit the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control from participating in police raids such as the ones in which patrons were rousted from Fairfax County bars and arrested for public drunkenness.
State Sen. Janet D. Howell, Reston Democrat, introduced the measure in response to the arrests of nine persons by police in Reston and Herndon on suspicion of being intoxicated during a series of raids on bars and restaurants during the Christmas and New Year holidays. ABC agents participated in the raids as advisers.
The amendment would prohibit ABC from using state funds "in furtherance of any local law enforcement program involving the unauthorized seizure of any person while such person is engaged in lawful activities on premises licensed for consumption of alcoholic beverages."
"Citizens enjoying dinner with friends should not be subjected to such embarrassment or harassment if they have not exhibited the obvious signs of public drunkenness," Mrs. Howell said yesterday.
Between Dec. 8 and Jan. 3, officers struck six restaurants nightly for three nights. Undercover officers slipped into the bars and observed the behavior of patrons. Police said that if anyone exhibited extreme signs of drunkenness, uniformed officers waiting outside would enter the bar, remove the patron and administer a field sobriety test.
Bar operators subjected to the raids said the officers provided no explanation for their actions and harassed sober patrons, some of whom they said had not driven and had no plans to drive.
Police made 12 arrests, nine for public drunkenness and three on drug-related charges or for obstructing justice. Several of those found to be drunk were taken to the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center.
Police said the raids were initiated because they were being summoned to the same few establishments as many as three times per night by reports of assaults, destruction of property and disorderly conduct.
Becky Gettings, an ABC spokeswoman, said she could not speculate about how Mrs. Howell's amendment, introduced in committee on Jan. 16, might change the agency's policies, but she said ABC would abide by the legislature's decision.
"We leave it to the General Assembly to set the laws, and then we enforce them," she said.
The Senate Finance Committee passed the amendment unanimously Monday. Tomorrow, it will be voted on as part of the Senate's budget. If that budget is passed, the amendment would be taken up by a House-Senate conference committee, where its future is uncertain.
"I would hope it stays in the final budget, but even if it doesn't, it's been successful," Mrs. Howell said.
She said that introducing the amendment forced ABC to define its policy on enforcing public-drunkenness laws.
She pointed to an internal memo dated Jan. 24 from the director of the ABC's Bureau of Law Enforcement, S. Christopher Curtis, to the bureau staff that addressed the "controversial operations" in Fairfax County.
The memo said police tactics, including the use of undercover officers and field sobriety tests, were inconsistent with ABC policy.
"There is specific statutory definition of intoxication that agents must personally observe before taking any drunk-in-public enforcement action against a patron in licensed establishments," the memo stated.
The memo called for all requests for assistance with enforcing public-drunkenness laws to be routed through the deputy director's office, an indication that ABC would no longer cooperate in similar raids.
"Our policy is to cooperate with other law-enforcement agencies in enforcing state law," the memo stated. "We do not, however, want to participate in intoxicated-patrons enforcement operations that do not adhere to our standards and procedures."
Fairfax County police yesterday declined to discuss whether their policies differ from ABC's.
"We're just not commenting on that whole situation," said Officer Courtney Young, a police spokesman.

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