- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 7, 2003

Fairfax County police have raided bars in Reston and Herndon to arrest suspected drunks, taking them to jail on charges of public drunkenness. Pub owners say police are harassing sober customers.
Lt. Tor Bennett, assistant commander of the Reston District station, said the arrests are part of a "stepped-up effort" run mostly on weekend nights from the first week of December through the first week of January. He said the crackdown coincided with an increase in drinking around the holidays.
Lt. Bennett said police had received repeated reports of fights and drug dealing near bars and wanted to make sure customers weren't being "overserved."
"We felt it was getting to a level where we would need to nip it in the bud," Lt. Bennett said.
He said two teams of two undercover officers typically slip into bars and observe patrons' behavior. If anyone exhibits extreme signs of drunkenness, uniformed officers waiting outside enter the bar and remove the patron.
Under Virginia statute, an establishment with a liquor license is considered a public place. That gives police the right to enter and issue citations for public drunkenness.
"To give them the benefit of the doubt, we would take them outside and give them preliminary field sobriety tests," Lt. Bennett said.
Billy Slone, a manager at Champps in Reston, said he was on duty twice when police swarmed the restaurant. The first time, on Dec. 5, officers selected six persons, apparently at random, and took them outside, he said. Three, including one man dressed in a Santa Claus costume, were arrested and taken to jail.
"In most of these cases, they would be transported to the adult detention center until they sobered up," Lt. Bennett said. The fine for public drunkenness for a first-time offender is $40.
Lt. Bennett said the program resulted in a dozen arrests, including four as the bar patrons were heading to their cars. He said the law gives officers the discretion to issue a citation simply "if a person appears drunk in public" but that arrests are made only in the "most severe cases."
"These were the most severe cases," he said. "People who were just falling off their stools, stumbling down stairs."
Mr. Slone said that wasn't true.
"They weren't bothering anybody. They were just sitting at the bar," he said. "It was karaoke night. They were singing songs."
Jimmy Cirrito, the owner of Jimmy's Old Town Tavern in Herndon, said he had the same experience on a quiet night at his bar last month.
"It was a mess," Mr. Cirrito said. "They were pulling people out that were not even drunk." He said police pulled out one patron after saying they had reports that a woman matching her description was dancing topless, which Mr. Cirrito flatly denied.
He said another woman, who had arrived by cab and planned to leave by cab, was drinking her second beer when she was taken outside for a sobriety test.
"For the people who do have a cab coming, they don't have a chance to get into it," he said.
Mr. Cirrito announced to his customers that police were citing for public drunkenness and that they might want to leave if they had overindulged. He said police arrested two persons in the parking lot as they left.
The publicans said police entered their establishments and offered no explanations for why they were taking customers outside.
"I didn't have a problem with the police presence," Mr. Slone said. "My problem was when I came up and said, 'Is there a problem?' they wouldn't speak to me."
He said police were more communicative in a subsequent encounter.
Lt. Bennett said the result of the program will be a Jan. 15 meeting at which police, officials with the Virginia Department of Alcohol Beverage Control and local bar owners will discuss compliance issues and lessons from the arrests.
Lt. Bennett said he hasn't received any complaints. "In various degrees, this is something that goes on routinely throughout the year," he said.
Police in Alexandria, Arlington County and Prince George's County said they had never used such methods.
"We're not putting any special effort into going into private establishments to lock up drunks," said John Ritter, Arlington County police spokesman.

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