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Police Inspections of Food Trucks Continue in Arlington

by ARLnow.com January 31, 2011 at 3:20 pm 4,967 30 Comments

It’s like an initiation rite for new food trucks in Arlington.

For several weeks, the newbies are subjected to a barrage of visits from police officers, who themselves are responding to complaints from local businesses. Most of the complaints are made when the trucks are in Rosslyn or Crystal City. In almost every case, an officer responds, checks the truck’s license and leaves after verifying the truck is licensed and not illegally parked.

We started paying attention to this trend in October, when the BBQ Bandidos truck was the target of police visits (see photo, left). In December, we felt compelled to write about the Bada Bing truck’s travails as it was inspected at least eight times.

Now, the Big Cheese truck is becoming a frequent destination for license-checking officers.

On Friday, while the truck was parked on North Lynn Street in Rosslyn, police were called to check its license.

“Showed him my permit and he was on his way. I love Arlington,” truck owner Patrick Rathbone tweeted at the time. Today, while the truck was serving customers in Crystal City, another call for police.

“The police checked my permits then moved but the yellow jacket [Crystal City Shops] security guys are lurking,” Rathbone wrote.

According to Arlington Police spokeswoman Det. Crystal Nosal, police must respond whenever they receive a complaint.

“Dispatchers are required to send officers out,” Nosal said. “We cannot pick and choose what calls we go to.”

Nosal also noted that the detective in charge of issuing vending licenses will often respond to specific complaints and will make random checks of food trucks he does not recognize.

  • Arl Rat

    This is absurd. Its all about location. All the chains are afraid that the food trucks will one up them on their business. Go down Columbia Pike/Four Mile Run and all you see are “legal/illegal” vendors selling their version of snow cones, coconut, and whatever else they have over there. Its an eyesore, but I don’t see anyone complaining.

  • R0bespierre

    Yeah at what point do you turn the lens around and start investigating the sources and motives of the complaints? The police aren’t employed to help business owners harrass each other or to become weapons of annoyance in turf wars. People who abuse the law like that in general are annoying and if I found out a restaurant was calling the cops on a vendor just to make them uncomfortable, I’d certainly not support that business in the future.

    • I’ve heard tell of who’s behind it, but only on background. Unless someone is willing to talk and has some evidence to back it up, we can’t report it without opening ourselves up to liability.

      • C-Man

        Could you do FOIA request to the Arlington County Police ? Are the complaints allowed to be anonymous ?

        • The thing about the FOIA is that it usually takes a long time to go through. I’d rather save the time and effort for a bigger, more long-term story.

      • Bluemont John

        You can legally report that someone else is claiming so-and-so is behind it. Truth is a 100% defense against libel.

        But if the info was given on background, for no attribution, then you’re of course bound by your word.

    • Lou

      Part of the problem is that vendor permits are obtained from the police, which makes them the enforcers of permit violations. As if police do not already have enough to do, we expect them to keep an eye out for vendors without proper licenses. And like the detective said, they are required to respond.

      The permits should be moved to a more appropriate department, and let zoning or someone else be the people who get the calls.

      • mehoo

        Exactly, Lou.

  • D

    This is nuts! Just because we finally get some variety in Rosslyn they try to cause trouble! I love the food trucks – just tried the new one today @wheresauca. Eat Sauca : )

  • If I ran a cart and knew it was a nearby restaraunt trying to push me away, I would call the cops on the restaraunt and demand they check their license, and possibly call the board of health and tell them I found rat tail in my food.

    • The Noze Bros

      Perpetrating fraud is not an honorable solution.

      • Neither is harrassment

      • mehoo

        His point is that this is exactly what the restaurants are doing to the food trucks, perpetrating fraud.

  • Veeta

    Big Cheese should ditch Crystal City and come up to Courthouse and Clarendon then!

    • AllenB


      • JJ

        Nooo! Crystal City <3's the Big Cheese too!

        • AllenB

          Can you share them a day or two a week?

  • charlie

    that police officer can check me out for any zoning or licensing violations.

    • AllenB


  • Joe

    Look, this is what we get living in the People’s Republic of Arlington. Government intruding on the mundane details of our lives, like eff’ing food trucks.

    • mehoo

      No, the police aren’t doing this because they want to. They have no choice. This is capitalists using the government to try to suppress competition.

  • DaveinSA

    How about a novel idea? Health and Environmental Services regulate and monitor food licenses and sanitary compliance. And the Police Department enforce crosswalk and stop sign laws rather than running through a crosswalk or sign while headed to a parked food truck. That is the norm in CC.

  • BadaBingisDELICIOUS

    The cops should keep records of the phone numbers that these complaints are being made from. If there is a “pattern” of abuse, perhaps it’s time for a summons or a fullblown fire marshal inspection. This is bull$hit, leave the trucks along. Maybe your restaurant is just not as good and overpriced!

  • othersideoftheriver

    The trucks are getting as much harrassment in DC; it’s not entirely the PRA doing it.

  • Glebe Roader

    So, the police ask to see your permit — you show it — it’s legal — and you move on. What’s the problem? Brick-and-mortar restaurants have an occupancy permit that is usually posted somewhere.

    • mehoo

      Yeah, I wonder why they don’t just post them on the outside of the truck.

  • DCMorrison

    Just as the fire department charges when people call in false alarms, I think the cops should charge when someone makes a complaint about a food vending truck that turns out to be bogus.

    • An Area Employer

      That’s a good suggestion. Taxpayers do not pay the police to be the personal thugs of brick&mortar with the sole duty of disrupting their competition. A “loser pays” policy would help that.

  • Doug

    How much does a permitt cost in the first place and do the police fine a truck if they don’t have it?

    • Westover

      There is a fine that goes along with having an unlicensed food operation when they shut such trucks/carts down.


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