Jazzbones is a unique venue in the South Sound, with six or seven nights of live music a week and a music lineup that draws listeners from all over the region.
The nightclub on Tacoma’s Sixth Avenue also has a unique problem:
More people arrested for driving under the influence tell police Jazzbones was the last place they drank before their arrest than anywhere in the state, according to Washington State Patrol data.
From 2012 to mid-May, visits to Jazzbones led to 195 last-drink DUI arrests, the State Patrol data show.
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Second statewide is McCloud’s Saloon in Bremerton with 163 arrests, followed by Jake’s on Fourth in Olympia with 145, the Muckleshoot Casino in Auburn with 142 and Wayne’s Inn in Puyallup with 141.
Jazzbones manager Rachel Hogan said her bar has such a high number of last-drink DUI arrests because its entertainment makes it the most popular spot on Sixth Avenue — “We do have really good music” — attracting people at the end of their night after visiting other bars.
“It’s definitely not something to be proud of, you know?” said Hogan, a Stadium High School alumna who has worked at the venue on and off for more than a decade.
Hogan noted the State Patrol’s data are compiled from police reports, information for which officers get from the drunken drivers they arrest.
In using the information about drivers, Tacoma police do “have to take into account what they’re arrested for,” police spokeswoman Loretta Cool said.
“If they’re intoxicated or under the influence, how good is their information?” she said. “They’re drunk.”
The State Patrol says the data are not 100 percent accurate but should be close to it.
“There’s no scientific thing to it,” said Bob Thompson, the state Transportation Commission’s law enforcement liaison and a police officer in Pierce County. “I’ve made thousands of DUI arrests. People are pretty honest when you ask them.”
The agency collects the data on arrests for driving under the influence for the state Liquor and Cannabis Board, which uses it for rule enforcement and to educate bar owners and employees about overserving, said Justin Nordhorn, the board’s chief of enforcement.
Because the last-drink information is considered hearsay, it cannot be used criminally or in punishments against bars, board spokesman Mikhael Carpenter said.
Instead, the board looks at overservice violations, serving to minors and criminal conduct, among other violations.
Most bars get three to five checks per year from the board, Nordhorn said, but if bars start accumulating a high number of DUIs in a year — typically 10 to 20 — they end up on the state’s list of strategic interest.
Bars on the list get 25 checks or more from uniformed and plainclothes agents looking for overservice violations. If problems persist, a bar can be temporarily closed, fined or, in extreme cases, lose its liquor license.
Jazzbones is on the list and gets extra checks. As inspections increase, arrests generally decrease, Nordhorn said — about 6 percent of offenders repeat.
“When we go in and we deal with the licensed locations, we say, ‘You are in trouble, but we are here to help you,’” said Nordhorn, who also cited the board’s education programs for bar employees.
“We have to make it case by case,” said Nordhorn, an 18-year enforcement agent who has been chief for nearly five years. “When you’re looking at a high DUI volume, that doesn’t mean overservice occurred.”
People might not have slurred speech, watery eyes or balance issues when they get their last drink, or their body might not process the drink until after they have left the bar.
It’s harder to notice those signs of drunkenness in busy establishments with live music in the background or a crowd around the bar, Nordhorn said.
“If a bar does the right thing by cutting people off, that doesn’t mean people are making responsible decisions when they leave,” Nordhorn said. “There’s a lot of complex things that are going on.”
The state is unlikely to make the DUI last-drink arrests admissible in criminal court, Thompson said, but bars and employees can be held civilly liable if a person who was overserved is involved in a DUI crash.
If seen overserving a visibly impaired patron, servers and bartenders face fines, as well as the venue.
The process after an arrest for driving under the influence includes listing the liquor license number of the bar at which the person said they last drank, Nordhorn said.
About 14 percent of the state’s DUI arrests come from licensed locations, and another 13 percent come from licensed locations that arresting officers cannot immediately identify.
Many arrestees decline to say where they drank last, or say they were drinking in a private residence.
In the first four months of 2016 in Pierce County, at least 35 percent of those tested for DUI refused to answer where they drank last, 26 percent said they were drinking in a private residence and 16 percent drank last at an undisclosed establishment.
The local data do not include how many people drank at an establishment arresting officers could immediately identify.
Bars hosting concerts, offering drink specials or staying open until 2 a.m. are more likely to see DUI arrests from their patrons, Nordhorn said.
Geography also plays a role: More law enforcement agencies work in places that either have a lot of popular bars or where jurisdictions overlap, such as city borders or near highways. That makes it easier for officers to spot impaired drivers, Nordhorn said.
Jazzbones fits into many of those categories.
Posters line the walls of the two-story club, showing off past performers as diverse as rappers Sir Mix-A-Lot and Warren G, punk bands Guttermouth and Voodoo Glow Skulls, R&B singer Curtis Salgado and Tacoma pop singer Vicci Martinez.
The club is in the heart of the bustling Sixth Avenue Business District, where Tacoma police are often in the area. Pierce County sheriff’s deputies and State Patrol troopers monitor nearby as well.
Sixth Avenue Business District board of directors member Casey Cowles declined to comment for this article.
Tacoma police and Sixth Avenue Business District leaders meet once a month, Cool said, managing the problems that occur there: intoxicated drivers, littering and car prowling.
Police, as does the liquor board, make suggestions to bars after DUI arrests to help them control the amount of people who leave and drive drunk.
“A business can do everything right, and a person can walk out of there intoxicated, get in and drive,” Cool said. “I don’t think that’s the business’ responsibility if they’re doing everything right. It is the drivers’ responsibility. They know driving under the influence is against the law and they know they’re intoxicated.”
Just down the street from Jazzbones, Pat Mawhinney has owned O’Malley’s on Sixth Avenue for 16 years.
Since 2010, 107 people have told police the Irish-themed pub was the last place they drank before being arrested for driving under the influence, making the bar the fifth-most cited in Pierce County.
“It’s actually disheartening to hear when our name is mentioned like that,” said Mawhinney, who said he’s lost track of how many free cab rides he’s paid for when people were too drunk to drive home.
Mawhinney, a Bellarmine Preparatory School graduate now living in Oregon, is disappointed that police ask only for the last place where someone had a drink before being arrested, instead of being more thorough.
“Instead of people finding out they’ve been at five different establishments over the evening, they only ask where’s the last place you were at,” he said. “That happens to us quite often and that’s why we go through training often.”
Hogan, Jazzbones’ manager, carries the business cards of at least three Liquor and Cannabis Board agents in her wallet, and she has their numbers saved in her cellphone.
She talks glowingly of the relationship she has with the board, and she turns over a stack of fake IDs to the agents about once a month.
“We all act pretty professional and we use caution,” Hogan said. “If we see somebody that appears to be intoxicated, we’re going to give them food, water, try to sober them up.
“We don’t want them to get in a car and kill somebody — or themselves.”
How the LCB enforcement process works
If a bar consistently overserves, the state typically will close it for five days or levy a $500 fine, according to state Liquor and Cannabis Board Enforcement Chief Justin Nordhorn. The DUI statistics are not used in this enforcement.
If a bar has four of the same offenses within two years — overserving or serving minors, for instance — the enforcement division proposes canceling the business’ liquor license, Nordhorn said.
If there are repeated public safety violations in a short period of time, the state can order an emergency liquor license suspension.
“Repeat violations are very low, only 6 percent,” Nordhorn said. “It drops even further on a second to a third.”
The state issues about one emergency suspension a year, board spokesman Brian Smith said.
Some cities and counties file requests that the liquor licenses of nuisance businesses not be renewed — about five to seven in an average year.
They rarely come from Tacoma because of the city’s strong regulatory rules for business licenses, Nordhorn said.
Top 10 in state DUI last-drink arrests
Of the people arrested from January 2012 to mid-May 2016 in Washington for driving under the influence, arrestees most often reported having their last drink at these establishments:
Number of DUI last-drink arrests
Jake's on Fourth
Schafer's Bar and Grill
Emerald Queen Casino
Lady Luck's Cowgirl Up
Source: Washington State Patrol data