Alcohol linked to violent crime in our neighborhoods
Alcohol abuse takes its toll on public health and our communities in many ways, including through higher rates of violent crime.
And a new University of Minnesota study has confirmed that neighborhoods with a higher density of alcohol establishments experience more violent crime. But the study also compared neighborhoods with on-premise alcohol sales – such as bars and restaurants – with neighborhoods containing off-site alcohol sales, such as liquor stores.
Traci Toomey, a professor of epidemiology at the University’s School of Public Health, led the study.
On-premise alcohol sales led to more violent crime than off-premise sales
“We found a stronger relationship between density of alcohol establishments and violent crime for on-premise – the bars and the restaurants – than we did for the off-premise establishments,” she said.
“But that’s not to say that there wasn’t a connection between the number of, or the density of, off-premise establishments and violent crime. It’s just that it was higher, it was more magnified, for the on-premise establishments.”
Public Health Moment
[powerpress url="http://www.advances.umn.edu/audio/alcohol-and-crime.mp3"]Listen to Toomey on Public Health Moment
Findings should influence policy
Toomey said that policy makers should consider these findings and previous studies when making decisions about the number of alcohol licenses to be granted in a given community.
“The recommendation is that we need to control the density of alcohol establishments in a neighborhood and in a community,” she said. “We need to make sure that we’re not flooding these communities with alcohol establishments and inadvertently increasing the problems that that neighborhood is experiencing.”
Toomey added that while elected officials may be tempted to increase the number of alcohol establishments as a way to raise revenue during tough economic times, she said that they need to weigh those benefits against the strong potential for increases in violent crime.
“An increase in violent crime will increase community costs in terms of law enforcement, court costs, health care costs, and contribute to a poorer quality of life for neighborhood residents.”
On-premise vs. off-premise
Toomey said that on-premise establishments like bars and restaurants sell alcohol to be consumed on site, while off-premise establishments like liquor stores and convenience stores sell alcohol to be consumed at a different location. As a result, these types of establishments could pose different problems for neighborhoods.
On-premise establishments are more likely to attract larger crowds, and customers at these establishments may drink too much and get involved in problems like fights and vandalism, Toomey said. Meanwhile, “off-premise establishment customers typically do not hang out at the establishment and are more likely to get intoxicated and have problems at different locations, potentially outside of the neighborhoods where they purchased the alcohol.”
About the study
Toomey and her colleagues examined data from 83 neighborhoods in Minneapolis for 2009, including alcohol-outlet densities, neighborhood demographics, and four categories of crime: assault, rape, robbery, and total violent crime.
Results will be published in the August 2012 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research and are currently available at Early View.