Alcohol-Free Bars, Part II


Fairfax County, Virginia's crackdown on "public drunkenness," which involves hauling out bar patrons–at random, by some accounts–for impromptu Breathalyzer tests, has inspired some healthy outrage. "Public drunkenness is not the same thing as some arbitrary standard that applies to operating a motor vehicle," says Richard Berman, a lawyer representing bar and restaurant owners. "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." In an op-ed piece in today's Washington Times, former congressman Bob Barr compares Fairfax County police to the "precrime" unit in Minority Report, arresting people for offenses (in this case, driving while intoxicated) they might commit in the future. The police say they are reviewing the strategy.

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  1. The police had better arrest me right now. I’m planning on going out and getting drunk beyond belief this weekend. I can even provide approximate time and probable location. Please, please, PLEASE Big Government – come and save me from myself!

  2. Brad: There ain’t enough cops to arrest us all.

  3. No, there ain’t enough cops to arrest us all. And when the choice comes down to sending the squad to the $12 martini bar or the $1.50 MGD draft night at some dive, where do you think they’ll end up?

  4. Let me just say as a Fairfax County resident how outrageous this is being seen as from within the community. It’s at least encouraging to see the populace at large understanding the important need to balance genuine public safety issues (i.e. drunk driving) with concerns for privacy and unacceptable police power.

    To anyone who didn’t see, the root problem is that under Virginia law, bars and restaurants are “public places,” so technically the police have the power to arrest any patron for “public drunkenness” even if they never leave the bar in question or never show any intention or ability to attempt to oeprate a motor vehicle. It’s absurd, but I’m at least glad to see that for once the public completely agrees.

  5. And of course an unintended consequence of this will be drinkers patronizing bars outside of Fairfax, more than likely resulting in increased drunk driving. Way to go.

  6. Paul: Well done. TLOUC prevails once again!

  7. If a bar is a public place for public drunkenness purposes, wouldn’t using a public restroom violate ordinances against public urination or defecation (and possibly both at the same time)?

  8. Tim: Wouldn’t the same ordinances also apply to a multitude of legislature buildings?

    Oh, wait. It doesn’t count if it’s only metaphorical.

  9. Reading between the lines a little, this might just be a bit of “creative policing” intended to warn a few troublesome bars that they need to tone it down a bit. The neighbors have been complaining, which annoys the police and makes more work for them, so they’re just closing the feedback loop by harassing the bars.

    But if this strategy becomes widespread, it’s only a matter of time before some bad apples on the police force start forcing bar owners into paying to be left alone. This is a recipe for police corruption.

  10. Didn’t “public places” gain prominence in the push for civil rights? Supreme Court handwaving and all that?



  12. I’m just curious, but since when has a privately owned establishment been a public place?

  13. Fred: Ease up on the caffiene.

    Set: I’ve had that same question with the whole anti-smoking fiasco. anybody got a good (or bad) answer?

  14. Interesting. My previous post is missing.

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