Policing Liquor Establishments: A Holistic Approach

Article excerpt

A small American town of 17,000 residents had one of the highest crime rates in the county. By day, it was a vibrant cluster of small retail shops with residents and visitors enjoying the friendly feeling. At night, however, a different personality emerged: a climate of street fights, open-air drug deals in the parking lots of bars, impaired drivers, property damage from vandalism, and minor thefts had existed for several years.

One bar in a large building had live music and catered to patrons in their early 20s. This establishment had fights that often included the bar's employees nearly every night in the parking lot. Rumors of sexual activities and drug dealing constantly surfaced. In another part of town, local residents patronized three bars in close proximity to each other known as the Bermuda Triangle. When told to leave one establishment, they would walk to another and continue drinking. Police received numerous complaints of drug dealing, fights, and property damage.

Nearly every night, all of the town's police officers, with assistance from state and county personnel, would go from one call to another about alcohol-related crimes, which depleted resources from other areas and increased response times. The town needed a new approach as the police leadership and the city's elected officials continued to hear complaints from the community and crime statistics were not improving.


One proven method of making a community safer involves attacking the locations of crime and disorder. Being proactive early to prevent problems offers the most options for success. To this end, the author presents a strategy for police executives to consider that includes adopting the right mind-set, knowing who is responsible, partnering with other authorities, establishing a point of contact, agreeing upon expectations, training business employees, visiting the establishments, and documenting service calls.

The Right Mind-Set

The idea that assisting a bar in becoming successful, addressing issues of over service, or preventing disorder in such establishments belongs exclusively to the state's licensing authority on alcoholic beverages constitutes a common misconception. These state agencies often are underfunded and have insufficient personnel to effectively monitor the vast number of licensees. The agents often can handle only the "biggest fire" and, therefore, must react to problems.

When police departments adopt the mind-set, from the executive to the patrol officer, that this is our problem and, therefore, our responsibility, real and lasting results can happen quickly. This mind-set will help form relationships, inspire working partnerships, and create determination to achieve success. Without this foundation, everything that follows will have inconsistent and temporary results.

The Responsibility

First, police leaders should research the state's laws and court findings to determine the responsibilities of the liquor establishment. When police managers know the powers and responsibilities of the business establishment and the state's regulating agency, as well as what tools their own departments have, they will be better equipped to make an effective plan and to engage in a working partnership.

For example, is the business accountable for the behavior of customers outside its building and in its parking lot? Who has the power to immediately suspend the business' operations? Can police officers make an arrest for a minor misdemeanor that did not occur in their presence?

The Partnerships

Liquor control agents are the experts and an essential resource in the management of a bar. Many of the state's licensing agencies have a database that provides information that can assist the police department and may include documentation of administrative violations, owners of record, and arrests of impaired drivers that came from the business. …