Baltimore skyline

(Photo by Yianni Mathioudakis on Unsplash)

BOSTON — Alcohol has long been synonymous with bad decisions, but researchers from Boston University suggest simply reducing the hours during which alcohol is available for purchase at bars and taverns can significantly lower rates of violent crime.

 

When officials restricted late-night alcohol sales at bars and taverns in one Baltimore neighborhood, homicides declined by 51% within the first month and by 40% over a full year. On a broader level, all local violent crimes dropped by 23% year over year.

Study authors from the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) and the Alcohol Research Group of Emeryville in California believe these findings can serve as an example for countless other communities looking to lower violent crime rates and curb excessive drinking. While prior research has linked alcohol sales at liquor stores and other establishments to increased neighborhood crime, this is the first study to specifically assess the impact of changing the hours of sale in a low-income neighborhood on crime in the same neighborhood.

The ensuing results show shortening overnight operations by seven hours at bars and taverns in a Baltimore neighborhood resulted in a 51-percent immediate drop in homicides over the course of the first month. This was followed by a 23-percent decline in all violent crimes annually across the entire surrounding area, in comparison to similar neighborhoods with no change in hours of sale. Homicide rates went on to decline by 40 percent each following year.

“We were able to take advantage of this natural experiment, and apply rigorous analytic methods to assess the effect of the change,” says study lead author Dr. Erika Rosen of the Alcohol Research Group in a media release. “While we expected to see some change, the size of the drop in crime was even more significant than we expected.”

To reach these conclusions, the study authors evaluated the impact of the Maryland Senate Bill 571 (SB571) passed by the state legislature in 2020. That bill reduced the hours of sale for alcohol in 2020 from 20 hours per day to 13 hours per day (from 6am-2am to 9am-10pm). Researchers also estimated that subsequent crime reduction saved the City of Baltimore roughly $18.2 million in annual costs.

Moreover, this work indicates reducing late-night hours of sale may serve as an effective means for cities all over to address excessive drinking. While always prevalent, problem drinking has worsened on a national scale since the COVID-19 pandemic, as have homicides, assaults, and other crimes.

Crime Scene - Police Line Tape
When officials restricted late-night alcohol sales at bars and taverns in one Baltimore neighborhood, homicides declined by 51% within the first month. (© aijohn784 – stock.adobe.com)

Researchers analyzed publicly available data to measure total violent crime incidents within 800 feet of bars and taverns in a Baltimore neighborhood from May 2018 to December 2022. In other words, both before and after the new legislation on hours of operation took effect in September 2020.

Researchers then shifted their focus on total late-night crime occurrences between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m. around 26 bars and taverns. Why? Those are the times that show an association with alcohol-related crime. Next, they compared crimes to crimes happening near 41 other bars and taverns with unchanged hours of operation in demographically similar Baltimore neighborhoods.

All in all, this project investigated both violent crime (homicide, robbery, aggravated assault, and forcible rape) and common assault. The study authors also diligently adjusted for neighborhood factors, including population size, percentage of Black and White residents, alcohol outlet totals per square mile, neighborhood disadvantage, and number of convenience stores.

Additionally, researchers conducted further sensitivity analyses confirming the decline of late-night crimes. This suggests that crimes did not simply shift to earlier hours of the day or to nearby neighborhoods.

“Changing the hours of service and sale of alcohol is a relatively simple intervention,” explains study co-author Dr. David Jernigan, a professor of health law, policy & management at BUSPH. “Yet our findings suggest that, even in a period like the COVID-19 pandemic when alcohol consumption was rising, this policy has great promise for other cities and neighborhoods seeking to prevent and reduce crime.”

In conclusion, further research is necessary to test this policy in other cities and for longer periods of time. Still, researchers hope this evaluation will serve as a model for other cities as they consider how to decrease crime in local neighborhoods and support the overall health and safety of residents.

“Our study provides new and compelling evidence that supports the World Health Organization’s three ‘best buys’ to reduce alcohol attributable morbidity and mortality through reducing availability of alcoholic beverages, along with increasing prices via taxation and banning alcohol marketing,” concludes study senior author Dr. Ziming Xuan, professor of community health sciences “These findings highlight the critical importance of population-based alcohol policies in violence prevention.”

The study is published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

About John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

Our Editorial Process

StudyFinds publishes digestible, agenda-free, transparent research summaries that are intended to inform the reader as well as stir civil, educated debate. We do not agree nor disagree with any of the studies we post, rather, we encourage our readers to debate the veracity of the findings themselves. All articles published on StudyFinds are vetted by our editors prior to publication and include links back to the source or corresponding journal article, if possible.

Our Editorial Team

Steve Fink

Editor-in-Chief

Chris Melore

Editor

Sophia Naughton

Associate Editor

2 Comments

  1. Emory Kendrick says:

    Or….the methodology for recording and reporting those crimes changed to accommodate the new changes.

  2. PJ London says:

    Duh! or you could just compare the homicide-violent crime rates of US with Kuwait or Saudi Arabia.