Arlington Restaurant Initiative Partners Work Together for Safety

While working his way through another busy Friday evening, he’s quietly kept an eye on a couple at one of the bar tables. Something seems off; she looks nervous, he leans in too close. When the woman picks up her purse and nods toward the restroom, he reaches for her arm as if to stop her, then grudgingly lets her go. As the woman heads toward the back, she quickly leans in and says to the bartender: “Is Angela here tonight?”

His instincts were right. When the woman comes out of the restroom, there will be a staff member ready to walk her to the Uber waiting for her in front of the restaurant.

The “Ask for Angela” sexual violence prevention campaign is just one aspect of the Arlington Restaurant Initiative (ARI), which seeks to raise the standards of restaurants that serve alcohol and keep Arlington County, Va., a safe destination for nightlife and entertainment in suburban Washington, D.C.

The Arlington County Police Department coordinates the program, which offers accreditation to participating restaurants and coordinates training that includes fake identification detection and deterrence; conflict de-escalation; what to do if a crime occurs; active shooter training; and hands-only CPR provided by Virginia Hospital Center staff. A number of other Arlington County public service agencies partner in the initiative and assist with training. Since the program’s origin as the Clarendon Initiative in 2016, the county’s main restaurant and nightlife area has seen a marked decrease in several types of violence, including assaults against officers and malicious wounding.

“The area had gotten a lot of negative coverage in the local media, and we had to put a lot of time and effort toward overcoming restaurants’ initial reluctance,” says Master Police Officer Dimitrios (Jim) Mastoras, the department’s restaurant liaison officer. “I think they thought it would be over in six months and then I would go away. When they saw it was working, they became more engaged and more open to my trying new things.”

Mastoras says that initially, Arlington County sought not just to hold restaurants accountable, but also to establish a good relationship that would generate long-term solutions. He researched a number of programs in use in other areas of the United States and the world, and chose to model ARI after Best Bar None, a United Kingdom initiative that has the backing of that country’s Home Office. Mick McDonnell, the program’s coordinator, gave him access to Best Bar None’s policies, standards and checklists, and Arlington County subsequently became the first jurisdiction in the United States to adopt a similar program.

Mastoras says ARI continues to look for ways to be innovative, and without the relationships developed among restaurant management, community agencies and the public, the program would not be able to succeed: “Our actions over the past three years show that we care about the success of these businesses, because it’s a reflection on our community. Restaurants take a great deal of pride in being able to display the sticker of participation in their windows and they’re starting to self-promote their accreditation. It’s quite a change from the ‘us vs. them’ mentality of 2015.”

Instead, in 2019, participating restaurants have access to guidance on standards here, and all officers assigned to that area receive training on the same policies and standards. Mastoras says that among restaurant staff, there’s no longer a fear of calling police, and officers understand there’s an expectation they’ll be asked to intervene early and defuse situations before they become violent.

“We’ve proven the program’s worth through its longevity and consistency, and that’s how we’ve earned our partners’ trust,” Mastoras says. “If another jurisdiction is looking to start something similar, its staff members need to have that patience, along with commitment from leadership. When I started working on the initiative, everyone was skeptical. It took just as much work to convince the department of its value as it did the restaurants. We tend to stay focused on the traditional police response, and we also can’t force restaurants to participate, we need them to comply voluntarily. It’s given me a whole new view of law enforcement.”

To learn more about the Arlington Restaurant Initiative, visit here. To obtain more information from Arlington County Police Department staff, email here or call (703) 228-7423. Also, a toolkit for agencies looking to create a similar program, produced by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, will be released later in 2019.

Article photo: Arlington County Police Department

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About The Author

Becky Lewis has written professionally for nearly 40 years, the past 12 as a technical writer/editor with the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center System and its Justice Technology Information Center. She writes for SchoolSafetyInfo.org as well as for TechBeat.

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