NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 29, 2008

How do you like your booze: to stay or to go?  Whether residents of a given neighborhood prefer patronizing bars or liquor stores has a significant impact on patterns of violent crime and disorderly conduct, a study by the Urban Institute finds.

Researchers mapped 1,473 alcohol-selling establishments in the District of Columbia, and then tracked the relationship between the type of outlet and "violence and disorder," using measures like arrests and 911 calls.  Not surprisingly, the more establishments selling spirits in a neighborhood, the more general mayhem occurs:

  • Neighborhoods with a lot of outlets offering liquor to go (like corner stores) tend to experience more domestic violence.
  • Neighborhoods with a high number of sites that let customers drink on the premises (like bars and restaurants) tend to have many more reports of aggravated assault.
  • Although bars are "attractions of violence" generally, researchers found that bar districts see considerably fewer reports of domestic violence.
  • This suggests that drinkers may be taking their anger out on the loudmouth on the next bar stool -- rather than at home.

Furthermore, the relationships varied across different time periods of the day and week, suggesting that if policymakers and communities want to implement cost effective alcohol reduction strategies to combat crime and disorder, patterns of crime around outlets by time of day should be closely examined before thousands of dollars are allocated to new or continued programming, says Urban.

Bans on single containers might be feel-good measures that make the community feel safer, but should not be relied on to decrease neighborhood problems.  In this age of instant crime data made available to the public, initial investments in research-based strategies, coupled with community input, would have ample payoff in the long-run, says the Urban Institute.

Source: Caterina Gouvis Roman, Shannon Reid, Avi Bhati, and Bogdan Tereshchenko, "Alcohol Outlets as Attractors of Violence and Disorder: A Closer Look at the Neighborhood Environment," Urban Institute, May 2008.

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