Baltimore Study Shows Closing Liquor Stores Could Lower Urban Homicide Rates

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — A study by researchers at the University of North Carolina found that reducing the number of businesses that sell alcohol could lower the homicide rate in urban residential areas.

Many cities around the country are considering implementing new zoning regulations for the sale and consumption of alcohol, and research shows that those decisions could have life-and-death consequences.

“There is an ongoing violence epidemic in Baltimore, with recent years breaking records for number of homicides,” lead author Dr. Pamela J. Trangenstein and her team state in a media release. “This study suggests that there is potential to prevent violent crimes by reducing alcohol outlet density in Baltimore City.”

Dr. Trangenstein patterned her team’s research on the possible changes to the zoning laws that are being proposed by Baltimore’s government. They used a computer model that combined homicide rates in Baltimore and data from previous research regarding the relationship between killing and alcohol. The model found that 50% of all violent crime in the city is directly related to alcohol access.

Using this data, the researchers then analyzed three possible policy changes. The first change would reduce all alcohol purveyors in the city by 20%. This would include bars and liquor stores. The second proposal would close all 80 liquor stores located in Baltimore’s residential areas. The third would close a loophole in the city’s laws that allow bars and taverns to operate as liquor stores. Bars and taverns in Baltimore are allowed to stay open later than liquor stores, but many individuals use these outlets only to purchase alcohol for later consumption. These establishments are called “sham” bars.

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The researchers’ computer model predicted that their first proposal — closing 20% of all alcohol outlets in Baltimore — would cut homicides by 51 killings a year and save the city $63.7 million. These figures came to be after factoring for additional homicide causes like socioeconomic status, population density, and the occurrence of drug arrests.

Closing liquor stores in residential areas would prevent 22 homicides per year, saving $27.5 million.

Finally, according to the computer model, closing “sham” bars and taverns would only reduce homicides by one per year, saving $1.2 million.

However, the first and most effective option may be politically impossible. A 20% reduction in purveyors of alcohol would close enough outlets that the policy would likely be labeled “anti-business.”

The authors concluded, then, that the best option would be to close the 80 liquor stores in residential areas. Baltimore has over 1,200 licensed alcohol outlets, so this proposal would close only one in 15 in the city. This proposal, according to the computer model, would save 22 lives annually.

The study is published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

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