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Increased Alcohol Outlets Related to Violent Crime

A recent policy change in Lubbock, Texas provided an unusual opportunity to test the impact on violent crime of an increase in the number and location of off-premise alcohol outlets (such as liquor stores).  The effects of the policy change were studied by Texas A&M University and the Prevention Research Center of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation. It examined whether an increase in the number of off-premise alcohol outlets in the city over a brief period of time could affect rates of violent crime.  The study analyzed annual counts of violent crime across 172 US Census block groups inLubbock from 2006 through 2011.

Before September 23, 2009, Lubbock, Texas allowed off-premise alcohol sales only within a handful of large warehouse-type storesthat were concentrated at the very southern end of the city, although alcohol for on-premise consumption was available from more than 200 bars and restaurants city-wide.  A licensing law introduced on that date allowed the Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission to issue off-sale licenses to more than 140 stores throughout Lubbock during the following year. Statistical modeling examined whether annual violent crime counts within each Census block group were related to the changing number of off-premise and on-premise alcohol outlets active between 2006 and 2011.  The model also examined the socioeconomic characteristics of each neighborhood.  The effects of alcohol outlets were assessed both within block groups and across adjacent block groups.

The results of the analysis showed that on-premise outlets (such as bars and restaurants that serve alcohol) had a small, significant positive association with violence within a given block group, but this local effect was not apparent for off-premise outlets.  Instead, there seemed to be increases in violence in the areas adjacent to the places where there were many off-sale outlets.  Thus, sales of alcohol to take away appear to result in greater violence not right next to the alcohol outlet but rather in nearby areas. 

Study author, Paul Gruenewald stated, “This shows what happens when off-premise outlets are moved into a city that already has high alcohol availability.  The overall level of crime may not change but it does redistribute to other ‘nearby’ neighborhoods. These findings indicate the importance of examining neighborhood-specific effects of alcohol outlets on violence in additional to the city-wide effects. They also present further evidence supporting the need to examine the differential effects of on-sale and off-sale premises.”

Source: Violent crime redistribution in a city following a substantial increase in the number of off-sale alcohol outlets: A Bayesian analysis, Dennis M. Gorman, William R. Ponicki, Qi Zheng, Daikwon Han, Paul J. Gruenewald & Andrew J. Gaidus, Drug and Alcohol Review (2017) DOI: 10.1111/dar.12636