Arlington Restaurant Initiative (ARI)

The Arlington Restaurant Initiative (ARI) is a voluntary accreditation program which aims to increase safety and economic viability for restaurants and special events in Arlington County, VA. The Police Department has partnered with County agencies to establish a holistic approach to nightlife management and raise standards of restaurants that serve alcohol. ARI has been successful in reducing alcohol-related violence and building mutually-beneficial relationships with stakeholders.

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Arlington County, VA, which borders Washington, DC, has a vibrant nightlife and restaurant scene. As more restaurants began to participate in nightlife, the response of the Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) was reactive. It used enforcement as the primary tool to manage fights, public intoxication, and disorder. Most interactions restaurant staff experienced with officers were during fights or observing patrons be arrested for drunk in public and disorderly conduct. This reactive approach fatigued officers overtime and led to officers no longer wanting to work in this challenging environment. The exchanges between officers and restaurant staff had also become adversarial. Restaurant staff believed calling the police would shed a negative light on the restaurant, and officers believed that restaurant staff was responsible for creating a culture of fights, assaults, and disorders related to alcohol.

The Clarendon neighborhood, the biggest nightlife area in Arlington County, increased from four (4) restaurants that participated in nightlife to twenty-one (21). Currently, on an annual basis, the Clarendon hosts over 500,000 visitors each year on Friday and Saturday nights between 9 pm and 3 am. The introduction of ridesharing also contributed to Clarendon’s boom as a nightlife destination. With more affordable transportation, Clarendon began to see an increase in visitors from outlying suburbs throughout the DC metropolitan region.

In the summer of 2015, Master Police Officer (MPO) Dimitrios Mastoras, a twenty-two-year patrol veteran of the Arlington County Police Department, submitted a proposal to change the department’s policing approach to the Clarendon area. While researching existing programs to reduce alcohol-related harm, he found Best Bar None in the United Kingdom. Best Bar None is an accreditation model supported by the United Kingdom's Home Office, aimed at promoting responsible management and operation of alcohol licensed premises to reduce alcohol-related harm. Using Best Bar None as a model, the Arlington Restaurant Initiative (ARI) was created in 2017 to meet Arlington's needs and became the first voluntary accreditation model in the United States. For participation in ARI, restaurants are required to implement employee policies to meet the ARI standards, which cover VA ABC laws and effective practices to reduce alcohol-related harm. Restaurants that typically engage in nightlife (between 9 pm – 3 am), have a VA ABC license, a live entertainment permit, employ security, have large occupancies, and have a greater risk for alcohol-related harm. Restaurant staff are provided training in the detection of fake identifications, criminal/civil liability, police expectations, responsible alcohol service, protecting a crime scene, Bar Bystander sexual assault intervention training, CPR training, Revive opioid Narcan training, fire codes, and public health codes.

Arlington County Police Department has made community engagement a key component of its strategic management plan. Establishing mutually beneficial relationships and building trust with consistency is the main priority, along with the shift from enforcement to prevention. Using Proactive Alliance, a relationship-based policing concept (Molly C. Mastoras and Dimitrios Mastoras, “Proactive Alliance: The Ethos of Broken Windows,” Police Chief Online, September 11, 2019) trust and collaboration began between restaurant owners and public safety officers. This trust allowed for ARI to be introduced, accepted, and implemented by restaurant owners.

Today ACPD manages two nightlife districts, Clarendon and the Ballston neighborhood. These areas are managed with fewer officers, and it has become one of the most desirable shifts for officers to work. Many of the same officers consistently work these areas and have begun to embrace the relationship-based approach with restaurant staff. In 2020, Arlington County will see a new entertainment area in the Crystal City area after Amazon announced that it would build its HQ2 in Arlington County. The goal is to make the program available to every restaurant in Arlington County, which holds a VA ABC license, to reduce alcohol-related harm and liability. Currently, there are forty-two (42) restaurants and three (3) special event venues, which have earned ARI accreditation.

ARI has demonstrated that relationships can be developed with key stakeholders by working together to create mutually beneficial solutions. The restaurants have improved standards and compliance with the law; the County agencies use fewer resources to manage nightlife, and the community feels safer.

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