SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

The excellent paper by Gruenewald et al. (2006) provides clarification regarding the relationship between alcohol outlet density and violence by controlling for key neighborhood characteristics. Essentially, they found that assault rates were related to the local density of off-premise alcohol outlets but not related to the density of on-premise liquor outlets (i.e. bars). However, there was a significant interaction, with density of bars associated with higher assault rates in some types of neighborhoods but not others.

WHY IS VIOLENCE RELATED TO DENSITY OF OFF-PREMISE OUTLETS?

  1. Top of page
  2. WHY IS VIOLENCE RELATED TO DENSITY OF OFF-PREMISE OUTLETS?
  3. WHY IS DENSITY OF ON-PREMISE OUTLETS RELATED ONLY TO VIOLENCE IN SOME NEIGHBORHOODS BUT NOT OTHERS?
  4. References

It seems reasonable to expect that violence would be associated with the social interactions that occur while people are drinking in licensed premises, but it is not clear why violence should be associated with buying a bottle of wine, a case of beer or a bottle of spirits and taking it home or elsewhere to consume. One explanation might be that neighborhoods that have a high density of liquor stores have other characteristics that increase risk of violence. However, in this study, the relationship remained significant even when relevant neighborhood characteristics were controlled. A second possible explanation is that there is higher alcohol consumption in areas with a higher density of liquor outlets, due possibly to increased availability (see Babor et al. 2003). The present study did not control for alcohol consumption; however, a previous Australian study that did control for alcohol sales still found a significant relationship between violence and density of off-premise outlets, at least in urban areas (Stevenson, Lind & Weatherburn 1999).

A third possible explanation for the relationship between density of off-premise retail outlets and violence is the social interactions that take place in and around such outlets. Stevenson et al. (1999, p. 408) allude to this when they hypothesize greater opportunities for violence due to ‘a greater flow of people’ related to high traffic around liquor stores. However, the present study suggests that flow of people, per se, does not account for the association given the lack of a significant relationship between violence and overall retail outlet density (i.e. density of food and other retail stores). A different interpretation is that liquor outlets are not only places where people buy liquor; they also serve as places where people congregate, using the area around liquor stores to socialize and ‘hang out’, and treating the area as a kind of liquor store ‘patio’. An association with violence would be especially likely if those who congregated at liquor outlets belonged to populations who are at a high risk for violence, such as young males or those involved in the illegal drug trade (see Alaniz, Cartmill & Parker 1998). Gruenewald et al. discuss their lack of ability to control for illegal drug markets in their analyses but do not indicate explicitly that drug dealing is more likely to take place in the locality of liquor stores, although this seems to be implied in their discussion. However, they do not address whether other social activities might be occurring in and around liquor stores.

I am not aware of any studies specifically on the social environment around off-premise alcohol outlets, although Block & Block (1995) noted that ‘the corner package goods store may also function as a tavern, including chairs and tables’ in some neighborhoods of Chicago (p. 151), suggesting that at least some off-premise outlets are more than simply places to buy alcohol to consume elsewhere. However, if the relationship between off-premise alcohol outlets and violence is related to the social activities that occur in and around liquor stores this may well be a culturally specific phenomenon, for example, limited to the United States or even to some states within the United States. Certainly, where I live in Ontario people appear to purchase alcohol from the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) store just as they would any other retail product—they enter the store, buy the goods and then leave. However, admittedly, I have had some experience with liquor store related violence in Canada, when our research in the late 1970s in British Columbia involved handing out questionnaires to people as they were leaving government-run liquor stores similar to the LCBO—one of our researchers did get into an altercation with a customer who ended up punching him (notably, this same researcher had completed hundreds of hours of barroom observation without once being the target of aggression).

WHY IS DENSITY OF ON-PREMISE OUTLETS RELATED ONLY TO VIOLENCE IN SOME NEIGHBORHOODS BUT NOT OTHERS?

  1. Top of page
  2. WHY IS VIOLENCE RELATED TO DENSITY OF OFF-PREMISE OUTLETS?
  3. WHY IS DENSITY OF ON-PREMISE OUTLETS RELATED ONLY TO VIOLENCE IN SOME NEIGHBORHOODS BUT NOT OTHERS?
  4. References

As noted above, it is easy to speculate as to why density of on-premise drinking establishments would be related to violence—bars, clubs and pubs are known to be high-risk drinking settings (Stockwell et al. 1993; Macdonald et al. 2005); also, problems have been found in the streets outside licensed premises, especially after closing (Marsh & Kibby 1992). However, unlike findings from several previous studies (Lipton & Gruenewald 2002; Norstrom 2000), density of on-premises outlets was not related significantly to violence as a main effect. On the other hand, violence was associated with a higher density of bars in unstable poor and rural areas. One possible explanation for this may relate to the high variability in problem behavior among licensed premises (Graham et al. 1980); that is, if people are well-behaved at on-premise drinking establishments, it may not matter how many premises there are; and given the association between bar characteristics and violence (Graham et al. 1980; Homel & Clark 1994), if bars were different in unstable poor and rural areas than in other areas, this might explain the findings. In particular, violence would be expected to be associated with bars in unstable poor neighborhoods if these bars were more likely to be run-down, to serve patrons to intoxication and to have an ‘anything goes’ atmosphere, possibly in addition to serving a different function from bars in better-off neighborhoods, as suggested by Gruenewald et al. (2006) In addition, perhaps, the guardianship role performed by bar staff (Graham et al. 2005) (and presumably not performed by staff at off-premises liquor outlets) may account for at least some of this effect.

In summary, as with most research, the present study clarifies some issues but also raises questions for future research. First, we need a better understanding of what actually occurs in and around off-premise alcohol outlets that might account for the relationship with violence. Secondly, as suggested by Gruenewald et al., we need to look closer at the relationship between violence and density of on-premise alcohol outlets to explore whether the relationship is related to the characteristics, and not simply the number, of the outlets.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. WHY IS VIOLENCE RELATED TO DENSITY OF OFF-PREMISE OUTLETS?
  3. WHY IS DENSITY OF ON-PREMISE OUTLETS RELATED ONLY TO VIOLENCE IN SOME NEIGHBORHOODS BUT NOT OTHERS?
  4. References
  • Alaniz, M. A., Cartmill, R. S. & Parker, R. N. (1998) Immigrants and violence: the importance of neighborhood context. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Science, 20, 155174.
  • Babor, T., Caetano, R., Casswell, S., Edwards, G., Giesbrecht, N., Graham, K. et al. (2003) No Ordinary Commodity: Alcohol and Public Policy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Block, R. L. & Block, C. R. (1995) Space, place and crime: hot spot areas and hot places of liquor-related crime. Crime Prevention Studies, 4, 145183.
  • Graham, K., Bernards, S., Osgood, D. W., Homel, R. & Purcell, J. (2005) Guardians and handlers: the role of bar staff in preventing and managing aggression. Addiction, 100, 755766.
  • Graham, K., LaRocque, L., Yetman, R., Ross, T. J. & Guistra, E. (1980) Aggression and barroom environments. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 41, 468485.
  • Gruenewald, P. J., Freisthler, B., Remer, L., LaScala, E. A. & Treno, A. (2006) Ecological models of alcohol outlets and violent assaults: crime potentials and geospatial analysis. Addiction, 101, 666677.
  • Homel, R. & Clark, J. (1994) The prediction and prevention of violence in pubs and clubs. Crime Prevention Studies, 3, 146.
  • Lipton, R. & Gruenewald, P. (2002) The spatial dynamics of violence and alcohol outlets. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 63, 187195.
  • Macdonald, S., Cherpitel, C. J., Borges, G., DeSouza, A., Giesbrecht, N. & Stockwell, T. (2005) The criteria for causation of alcohol in violent injuries based on emergency room data from six countries. Addictive Behaviors, 30, 103113.
  • Marsh, P. & Kibby, K. (1992) Drinking and Public Disorder. London: The Portman Group.
  • Norstrom, T. (2000) Outlet density and criminal violence in Norway, 1960–95. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 61, 907911.
  • Stevenson, R. J., Lind, B. & Weatherburn, D. (1999) The relationship between alcohol sales and assault in New South Wales, Australia. Addiction, 94, 397410.
  • Stockwell, T., Lang, E. & Rydon, P. (1993) High-risk drinking settings: the association of serving and promotional practices with harmful drinking. Addiction, 88, 15191526.