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Arlington Restaurant Initiative (ARI)

DOJ Tookit

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.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

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.

Innovation Description

What Makes Your Project Innovative?

What makes ARI innovative is the Proactive Alliance relationship-based policing concept is used as the foundation for ARI's implementation (Molly C. Mastoras and Dimitrios Mastoras, “Proactive Alliance: The Ethos of Broken Windows,” Police Chief Online, September 11, 2019). Proactive Alliance uses evidence-based counseling therapy concepts to develop collaborative, side-by-side, relationships to achieve mutually beneficial long-term outcomes. Without establishing these relationships, owners would not have joined a voluntary accreditation program like ARI. With stakeholders (restaurant owners, municipality, residents) working together with a common interest, they were able to set expectations and criteria for accountability collaboratively. ARI has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) Office as a national model for municipalities that wish to implement an accreditation program to manage nightlife areas and restaurants.

What is the current status of your innovation?

Continuous research and innovation are taking place within the Restaurant Liaison Unit of the Arlington County Police Department. A new program called "Bar Safe" started a pilot phase in September 2019, to reduce the quality of life crimes and alcohol-related disorder. Bar Safe is an exclusionary program in which twenty-four restaurants and businesses signed a partnership agreement to ban patrons who commit crimes at their establishments. Essentially, if a patron is banned from a restaurant or business for committing certain alcohol-related crimes, it applies to all other businesses in the agreement. "Banned from one, banned from all."

We have also introduced the patron safety program "Ask for Angela" with the permission of Haley Child from the UK. This safety program is a compliment to the Bar Bystander sexual assault intervention program. If a patron feels uncomfortable, they can ask any staff member if Angela is working, which is the staff's cue to provide help to the patron.

Innovation Development

Collaborations & Partnerships

ARI’s success is attributed to the partnerships with County agencies and organizations. The Arlington County Fire Department, Arlington Office of Public Health, Victim/Witness Advocate (Bar Bystander sexual assault intervention), Code & Zoning Enforcement, Virginia Hospital Center (CPR training), Arlington Addiction Recovery Initiative, Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Authority, Arlington Office of Economic Development/Chamber of Commerce (Promotion of ARI), and resident civic associations.

Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries

Each of the County agencies, organizations, and resident civic associations have made great strides collaborating on issues such as disorder or loud music. With relationships established, empathy among stakeholders has increased by having a better understanding of each stakeholder’s challenges and concerns. Each stakeholder is now willing to exercise more patience and work together rather than take an adversarial stance.

Innovation Reflections

Results, Outcomes & Impacts

Reducing violent crime associated with a nightlife area requires a shift from enforcement to one of prevention and guidance. These crimes include shootings, stabbings, aggravated assaults, assaults on law enforcement, sexual assault, drunk in public, urinating in public, and disorderly conduct. In 2015 there were 968 contacts compared to 19,362 in 2018, which is a 1900% increase. The level of responsibility has increased among restaurant owners, as demonstrated by their willingness to adopt employee policies, accept training from ACPD, and allow ACPD to intervene before incidents escalate in their restaurants. Additionally, there was an 81% drop in assault & battery (A&B), 2015 - 11 A&B vs. 2018 - 2 A&B and a 62% drop in assault on law enforcement (AOP), 2015 - 8 AOP vs. 2018 - 3 AOP. With the drop in alcohol-related violence, ACPD and the restaurant owners have collaborated to begin the Bar Safe program to ban patrons who cause harm at their restaurants.

Challenges and Failures

The biggest challenge was convincing the Arlington County agency leaders, and elected officials to recognize and promote the incredibly challenging work being done by the ARI liaisons from the County agencies and the restaurant staff. Since ARI began, Arlington County has experienced an increase in participating restaurants and a high level of communication. Structurally, the ACPD Restaurant Liaison Unit has overseen the administration and delivery of ARI. There is a proposal to create the Arlington County Office of Nightlife and Entertainment and move oversight of ARI under that office, which would be supervised by the Arlington County Manager's Office. This would ensure that as ARI grows, it is given funding, staffing, and resources to ensure its success for years to come as the national model for nightlife and entertainment management. Lastly, this model takes time, patience, and commitment to implement long-lasting change.

Conditions for Success

ARI was created by one person, MPO Dimitrios Mastoras, who was able to lead many County agencies, organizations, businesses, and restaurant owners to a completely new and innovative way of managing issues. The autonomy provided by ACPD leadership has allowed the ARI program to become successful. With support from municipality leaders, an investment in time, resources, and a commitment to the Proactive Alliance relationship-based approach, any municipality can implement an adapted program of their own. The most exciting and valuable part of ARI is that it is adaptable and scalable to any size municipality. Alcohol-related harm is universal and experienced wherever people drink alcohol, and ARI satisfies the liability and safety concerns that are generated from restaurants and bars, regardless of their size or risk.


The release of the U.S. DOJ COPS Office toolkit on October 25, 2019, provides a blueprint for any municipality interested in implementing beneficial, long-term change for their businesses. Additionally, ACPD expanded the Restaurant Liaison Unit into the Business Outreach Unit with a mandate to create the Business Safety Initiative (BSI) using the blueprint of ARI. The focus of BSI is workplace violence prevention using the same relationship-based approach that was vital in the implementation of ARI. In the BSI model, businesses are offered several levels of training and resources. The first level provides businesses a workplace violence policy, stress management, threat management, threat assessment, public safety expectations, and establishing a liaison with the ACPD. The second level provides businesses with additional resources, such as active shooter training.

Lessons Learned

ARI has changed the way County agencies, businesses, and residents interact with each other. ARI has removed the silos that once allowed for County personnel to "pass the buck" and not provide the help that businesses or residents needed. Further, because of the weekly ARI report that is disseminated to all County agencies, it provides timely information allowing ARI liaison agencies to respond to issues before they escalate. There needs to be at least one person and agency to lead the effort to introduce a program like ARI and embrace the relationship-based concepts of Proactive Alliance. The person chosen needs to be open to evidence-based strategies, is willing to conduct continuous research, and can see the big picture while influencing others to do more. Lastly, relying on traditional strategies without evidence to support them must be reconsidered. Partnerships with academia and openness to public-private partnerships are essential to ensure that all stakeholders have a seat at the table, especially when looking to implement such large scale public policy such as ARI. Examples of this include creating the standards of the ARI accreditation, implementation of the Bar Safe patron accountability program, creation of dedicated rideshare loading zones for Uber/Lyft, Bar Bystander sexual assault intervention training, "Ask for Angela" patron safety program, and introduction of food trucks during nightlife hours (9 pm - 3 am). All of these programs required building support, listening sessions, collaboration on design, and stakeholder support.

An additional way the restaurants support ARI and the community is through the Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP)'s SoberRide program. This partnership between WRAP, ACPD, and Lyft is an outstanding example of public-private partnerships to reduce drunk and impaired driving.

Anything Else?

ACPD is very excited about using ARI as the blueprint for the newly formed Business Safety Initiative (BSI). After an analysis of the strategies used in ARI was completed by Dr. Charlotte Gill of the George Mason University Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy, almost all the recommendations and findings have begun to be implemented. This provided validation and qualitative results that ARI was a valuable program that needed cultivation. Further, ACPD entered into a partnership with the University of Virginia Social and Decision Analytics Laboratory to provide Arlington County with social and economic impact analysis of ARI and its impact on the community.

Project Pitch

Supporting Videos


  • Generating Ideas or Designing Solutions - finding and filtering ideas to respond to the problem or opportunity
  • Developing Proposals - turning ideas into business cases that can be assessed and acted on
  • Implementation - making the innovation happen
  • Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed

Innovation provided by:


Date Published:

18 November 2019

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