- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 8, 2003

Lawmakers and business leaders responded yesterday with a mix of skepticism and outrage to a Fairfax County police initiative to take trouble-making drinkers out of bars, then arrest them.
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Kate Hanley called for a review of the monthlong police sting, telling The Washington Times that she supports "aggressive enforcement" of drunken-driving laws but that the program needs to be re-evaluated.
Mrs. Hanley said she was forewarned about the program and knew police would aggressively combat drunken driving during the holidays, but she described the initiative as "a new twist." She also said it was her understanding that police would mostly target restaurants with serious and recent problems.
County police said they arrested 12 persons at restaurants in Herndon and Reston from early December through this week, after repeated reports of fights and drug dealing near restaurants. Police officials also said they wanted to ensure that bars were not overserving customers.
Eileen Curtis, president of the Herndon Dulles Chamber of Commerce, said she supports checking people for drunken driving but is concerned about the initiative.
"I don't think it's quite proper to be indiscriminately taking people out of a restaurant to do Breathalyzer tests if they are not exhibiting drunken behavior inside the restaurant," she said.
Police have scheduled a Jan. 15 review of the initiative that will include restaurant owners and their employees.
But Richard Berman, the Washington counsel for the American Beverage Licensees, called the operation a "fishing expedition."
Said Mr. Berman: "Public drunkenness is not the same thing as some arbitrary standard that applies to operating a motor vehicle. This is ridiculous. And this is not the way the public ought to have its tax dollars spent. This is not the way it ought to have its police officers deployed."
During the operation, undercover officers observed bar patrons, while uniformed officers waited outside to remove "obviously drunk" customers and administer field sobriety tests.
Police said they only removed patrons who were so drunk they were "falling off bar stools or stumbling down stairs."
But restaurant managers and owners complained that police were unfairly testing patrons who had no plans to drive or who exhibited no signs of drunkenness.
Virginia law states that intoxication is a condition in which a person has "drunk enough alcoholic beverages to observably affect his manner, disposition, speech, muscular movement, general appearance or behavior."
Fairfax County Police Lt. Tor Bennett, assistant commander of the Reston District station, said yesterday that he had not reviewed every case, but that he thinks his officers "know the difference between people who are having a good time and those who are obviously drunk."
Lt. Bennett said he was "satisfied" with the operation, saying that officers made no arrests in 17 of the 20 establishments they visited. He defended the operation by saying that the 12 persons arrested had blood alcohol readings between .14 and .224, and that four of them were in the process of getting into cars. The legal blood alcohol limit in Virginia is .08.
"Obviously, the restaurant owners and the bar employees are still our customers," Lt. Bennett said. "When there is that much of a reaction, I think it would make us think again."

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