The Washington Post

Arlington pub crawls to pay security and cleanup costs

Arlington County police deployed additional officers for a Cinco de Mayo bar crawl in Clarendon Saturday May 3, 2014. (J. Lawler Duggan/For The Washington Post)

Pub crawls, the wildly popular events that encourage people to travel from bar to bar for drink specials, will not be banned in Arlington County’s retail corridors as a result of a vote by the County Board to scrutinize them more carefully.

But those who sponsor the events soon will have to start picking up the tab for police and cleanup crews, which some bar owners and promoters say could kill the crawls nonetheless.

County Board members, while loath to discourage the free-spending young adult demographic, voted unanimously Saturday to make organizers of pub crawls pay costs previously borne by the public.

The regulations are scheduled to take effect by the end of October and will apply to any event that draws more than 500 people.

“We have, I believe, the highest percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds, as a percentage of our population, of any community in the U.S.,” said board Chairman Jay Fisette (D). “We embrace their vitality and the energy they bring to our community as a creative class and workforce, and at the same time, we request and require that they respect others.”

Mary H. Hynes (D), the board’s vice chairman, who has lived within a block of the heart of Clarendon’s night-life district for more than 35 years, said the board is seeking balance.

“This is an evolution as we figure out how to satisfy the various kinds of people who live in Arlington,” she said. “People don’t want Clarendon’s reputation to be only what happened at that last pub crawl.”

The vote means crawl organizers will have to apply for permits. Participants will have to abide by the recently tightened noise ordinance, which prohibits anyone from “yelling, wailing, shouting or screaming” from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m.

Police and some residents say the pub crawls are out of control. They complain about public urination, noise and trash left on the sidewalks and in neighborhoods around the county’s “urban villages.”

More than 5,000 people attended a St. Patrick’s Day pub crawl, an increase of at least 1,000 over 2013. A Memorial Day event drew 6,000, up from 4,500 the year before. Police expect a Halloween crawl to attract about 6,000 as well.

“The drain on resources is significant,” said Michael Dunne, an Arlington deputy police chief. “It’s $15,000 to $20,000 in overtime to handle these events.”

There are a minimum of 10 officers assigned per 1,000 participants, sometime forcing the department to reassign officers from other shifts and locations. Four pub crawls this year have resulted in 41 arrests, 299 calls for service, 40 fights, assaults or disputes and 190 warnings for disorderly conduct.

Arrest numbers “could be significantly higher,” Dunne said. “But when we only have so many officers assigned to work the area, we find it’s much more important to keep them there to maintain control than to lock up every single individual who might be intoxicated.”

Bars and pub-crawl organizers have argued that the taxes they pay should be factored into costs that will be levied.

“My question is, how much is the promoter going to pay? Where do they draw the line?” asked Rich Kelly, who owns Hard Times Cafe in Clarendon.

“I don’t think a promoter is doing a bad thing by promoting Arlington bars and restaurants,” he said.

Kelly predicted that promotion companies would pass the costs they incur on to bar owners, or stop operating in Arlington.

Mike Harrigan, of the promotion company GoCity Events, said hefty charges “would make it very difficult to justify” holding a crawl in the county.

The District does not charge for bar crawls, although organizers are required to apply with the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and file a security plan with police. Some neighborhoods have agreements with local bars that no crawls will be allowed.

Wilfredo Calderon, Arlington’s assistant county manager, said other localities see bar crawls as a problem and seek to eliminate them.

“Arlington’s not going to do that,” he said. “Some people make value judgements about them, but it’s all perfectly legal.”

Patricia Sullivan covers government, politics and other regional issues in Arlington County and Alexandria. She worked in Illinois, Florida, Montana and California before joining the Post in November 2001.
Rachel Weiner covers local politics for The Washington Post.


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