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The Case for Closing Liquor Stores

February 23, 2013 in Blogs

By Susan Cheever, The Fix

Liquor stores attract violent crime the way honey attracts flies. On manymaps showing the location of both liquor stores and violent crime, the dots representing crime look like metal filings drawn to a powerful magnet—the booze outlet. Thediscovery that violent crime is related to places, not only people, and that about half of all crimes tend to occur in about 5% of locations, was made in New York City in the 1980s. Focusing on the role that alcohol outlets play in a city's violent crime patterns has vastly improved the effectiveness and efficiency of policing. But when it comes to the obvious logical conclusion—that the number of stores be dramatically reduced—public officials have balked. Putting small businesses out of business is not the American way.

Since the 1980s, this systematic approach has changed the way crime is dealt with in many states. So-called criminogenic places, or hot spots, often have poor lighting, transit stops, abandoned buildings, nightclubs and…liquor outlets. A mass of evidence showing the connection—in terms of both proximity and concentration—between liquor stores and crimes like murder, rape and assault has come from all over: IndianaRiverside, California, Baltimore’s John Hopkins University, and the environmental think-tank the Pacific Institute, using statistics from New Jersey to Australia, to name a few. 

In a study at the University of California/Riverside comparing federal crime data for youths, ages 13 to 24, to a wide range of factors, including the density of liquor (and beer and wine) outlets, in 91 of the biggest US cities, researchers found that a higher concentration of booze businesses was significantly linked to higher rates of homicide. Access to alcohol was right up there with poverty, drugs, guns and gangs. And of all these causes, only liquor stores are even remotely susceptible to direct control. “Our findings suggest that reducing alcohol outlet density should significantly reduce the trends of youth homicide,” said Robert N. Parker, co-author of the UC/Riverside study.

A related study found even more specific factors that further underscore the connection between liquor stores and crime: including more retail outlets that sell single-serve containers of alcohol in their coolers. Even the percentage of cooler space made a difference—the more space for loose Millers, grab-and-go Four Lokos and …read more

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