June 16, 2024

Study Shows Reduction in Late-Night Alcohol Sales Reduces Violent Crimes in Baltimore Neighborhood

A recent study led by Boston University School of Public Health and the Alcohol Research Group of Emeryville, Calif., published in JAMA Internal Medicine, revealed that simply reducing the hours during which alcohol can be purchased can lead to a significant decrease in violent crime. The study, conducted in a low-income neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland, examined the impact of shortening overnight operations by seven hours at bars and taverns.

The findings showed an immediate 51% decrease in homicides within the first month, followed by a 23% annual decline in all violent crimes in the surrounding area compared to similar neighborhoods where no changes to alcohol sales hours were made. Additionally, homicide rates decreased by 40% in each subsequent year following the reduction.

The study utilized publicly available data to measure total violent crime incidents within 800 feet of bars and taverns in the Baltimore neighborhood from May 2018 to December 2022. The research team focused on late-night crime occurrences between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m. around 26 bars and taverns and compared them to crimes near 41 other similar establishments with unchanged hours of operation in demographically similar neighborhoods.

The analysis also estimated that the reduction in crime resulting from the change in alcohol sales hours saved the City of Baltimore an estimated $18.2 million in annual costs. The researchers highlighted that these findings suggest that limiting late-night alcohol sales could be an effective strategy for cities to address issues related to excessive drinking, homicides, assaults, and other crimes.

The study evaluated the impact of Maryland Senate Bill 571 (SB571), passed in 2020, which limited alcohol sale hours from 20 hours per day to 13 hours per day. The team also conducted additional sensitivity analyses that confirmed the decline in late-night crimes and indicated that crimes did not shift to earlier hours of the day or to adjacent neighborhoods.

Dr. David Jernigan, professor of health law, policy & management at BUSPH, emphasized the potential of changing alcohol sales hours as a simple yet promising intervention, especially in times like the COVID-19 pandemic when alcohol consumption rates were rising. The researchers hope that this evaluation serves as a model for other cities to consider implementing similar strategies to enhance public safety and wellbeing in their neighborhoods.

While additional research is needed to assess the long-term impact and scalability of this policy in other cities, the study provides compelling evidence supporting the effectiveness of population-based alcohol policies in violence prevention. Dr. Ziming Xuan, professor of community health sciences and senior author of the study, highlighted the critical importance of such policies in reducing alcohol-related harm and mortality.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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