Opinion: Moderating Our Drinking Can Curb Other Crimes in WeHo

Let’s face it, without our vibrant bar scene, West Hollywood would just not be West Hollywood.
Our bar scene is unlike any other in the state. It’s like California’s version of the Vegas Strip. Our great nightlife–centering around LGBT-oriented clubs—defines the city. It draws visitors by the droves and generates much appreciated revenue for our local businesses and city services.

So what’s the problem?

Too-frequent incidences of violent crime, assaults and high rates of night time vehicle and pedestrian crashes with deaths and serious injuries, not to mention DUIs, have put a damper on the fun, as some recent tragic incidents have demonstrated.

Ben Coleman
Ben Coleman

The good news is that there are efforts underway to begin to correct these challenges, and it’s about optimizing serving practices and creating awareness, not about shutting down bars, clubs, or restaurants. There are also things each of us can do as residents, visitors and bar patrons to not become targets of crime or other violence.

Let’s look at some relevant numbers regarding West Hollywood, alcohol, and public safety:

● West Hollywood ranks #3 in alcohol-related vehicle motor crashes, of all cities in LA County (County of Los Angeles Public Health report, “Reducing Alcohol-Related Harms in Los Angeles County,” March 2011)

● West Hollywood is in the top quarter of LA County cities for its rate of alcohol-related violent crime (Source: March 2011 County of Los Angeles Public Health report, “Reducing Alcohol-Related Harms in Los Angeles County”)

● A majority of sexual assault incidents in the city are alcohol-related and involving nightclubs and/or bars (West Hollywood Department of Public Safety, March 2013)

So am I arguing that WeHo go dry? Hardly. In fact, the problem seems to be related not so much to light or moderate drinking, but to dangerously heavy consumption.

National research hints that the real problem may be excessive drinking. Excessive, or binge, drinking is a huge societal burden – not just here, but everywhere:

● In 70 percent of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities, at least one driver in the crash had a BAC (blood alcohol content) of 0.15 percent or higher (Zador, 1991).

● Drivers with a BAC of 0.15 or above were found to be 380 times more likely to be involved in a single-vehicle fatal crash, compared with drivers who have not consumed alcohol (Zador, 1991).

● Heavy alcohol consumption has been linked to sexual assault (National Institutes of Health).

The question is, how can we enjoy the nightlife of West Hollywood without the drunk driving, crashes and crime that often result?

To properly address this from a consumption standpoint, we must do so on several fronts—personal, professional, and community.

First, on the level of personal responsibility, we need to take responsibility for ourselves to not get SO drunk that we too easily become a victim of crime or injury such as violent assault, robbery or being hit by a car. I’ve been on a few ride-alongs with both Sheriff and Fire personnel on weekend nights, and I was astonished at the number of times we responded to a call at a bar or near a bar because of a person who was drinking so much that they became unresponsive, not to mention drunk fight calls.

We all want to have fun on the weekend, but it’s important that we have enough self-awareness to know when it’s time to switch to water or get some food. And even if we are just buzzed, when leaving the bars we must remember to walk with a purpose, rather than focusing on our phones, oblivious to our surroundings; and obviously we must not drive drunk.

On the professional level, our alcohol establishment staff must all follow the laws, one of which includes being trained in “Responsible Beverage Service.” This means respectfully cutting off those who are obviously intoxicated. Period. According to state law, this is not optional. This also means bartenders should avoid over-pouring and not mix extra stiff drinks.

Another proven strategy to avoid turning out overly intoxicated patrons is to make food more available, and to that point West Hollywood should also allow more of our restaurants to stay open after 2 a.m. so intoxicated patrons have a variety of places to eat and sober up. Ultimately though, our bartenders and servers are ambassadors of the city. Let them have a focus of making sure their guests are getting home safely.

While refusing to serve alcohol to overly drunk patrons may seem like it hurts a bar’s profitability, if done correctly responsible beverage service practices can actually increase the bottom line by reducing legal costs, medical expenses, security costs and runaway insurance premiums. This point is well made by Greg Hanour, the owner of two iconic Orange County nightclubs that made 180 degree turns after being defined by over-service and excess. Hanour decided to prove that they could be models of responsible beverage service while still making a profit. In fact, his profits even increased.

On the broader community level we can notice and reach out to others who may have had too much to drink to help make sure they can get home safely. Call a taxi, an Uber or a Lyft, and there is always the free Weho Pickup trolley available so that folks don’t drive drunk. Be a good friend and don’t let those you’re out with go overboard.

And those who are interested in helping shape the work to make WeHo safer are encouraged to join the established and effective West Hollywood Project Community Advisory Board, as I recently did. This board focuses on implementing strategies that reduce alcohol-related problems and improve public health and safety. From programming alcohol and drug free events such as #BOOM and #SIZZLE to training responsible beverage services and practices at local bars and restaurants, the West Hollywood Project is a community coalition of dedicated people striving to improve the quality of life in West Hollywood. Please contact my friend Robert Gamboa at rgamboa@publicstrategies.org for more information on the West Hollywood Project.

Let’s turn the corner on needless alcohol-related violence and crime. Let’s all – residents, bar owners, and city agencies alike – work together to make West Hollywood a safer place.

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Steve Martin
Steve Martin
7 years ago

This is a thoughtful piece of advice; we all know criminals target WeHo residents walking home from our local bars and night clubs. Of course some of the accident stats are to be expected when the major part of our City revenue ($82 million this year) is based upon West Hollywood being a “destination” city. I don’t think Ben meant to be judgmental and let’s try to take his well meaning concerns to heart.

Truth be Told...
Truth be Told...
7 years ago

I’m sure Ben knows that due to the price of drinks many ‘have a drink’ before going out. Blaming the bar or the bartenders is crazy. Using Ben’s analogies perhaps a pizza place should not serve food to a person who is overweight because they might have a heart attack, or have a heart attack while driving. Texting while driving is certainly more dangerous than somebody taking a uber to a bar and having getting intoxicated. Blaming all the statistics on the bartenders or bars is misleading. Mr. Coleman is a Republican and part of the Log Cabin Republicans but… Read more »

7 years ago

My guess is that the heart is in the right place with this story but as others have quickly pointed out, reality is another matter, and what is going to have to carry the day. My 3 favorite bars in West Hollywood are ones which are well known for a heavy pour for a low price. Let’s say that was no longer the case. I’m overwhelmingly confident that a lot of people, like myself, would no longer make a point to spend as much of our social time in West Hollywood, because $14 drinks and the elitist attitude that goes… Read more »

7 years ago

@Manny…I was thinking the same thing. It also scares me because beneath the sound logic I am detecting sinister moral judgment disguised as concern for the safety of the community.

luca d
luca d
7 years ago

what is the point of this essay? it’s just regurgitating the usual platitudes about the dangers of excess drinking.
welcome to city bureaucracy ben, now what ?
can we expect a run for the council one day soon?

7 years ago

Wouldn’t it be nice if it were as easy as this op-ed thinks.

7 years ago

Hey, don’t you suggest bartenders need to pour weaker drinks! I can only afford 2 stiff drinks at $14 a piece and get the safe buzz I want. Why should I suddenly have to pay $42-$56 because someone else can afford 4 stiff drinks and wants to get smashes? Don’t take more money from the poor to take care of the rich who can’t manage their liquor!

7 years ago

I agree with Ben, but let’s talk facts.
drinking is $$$ for our city of west hollywood.
just like other issues our city faces daily, it’s seems that the bottom line is all about money.
till we stop the money “control” our west hollywood people lives, nothing will change.
we must get united to a better tomorrow.
love. nir zilberman
love no hate without a home. 818 613 8713. 24/7

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