Violent crime would decline if cities limited the number of liquor stores and banned the sale of single-serving containers of beer and other alcoholic beverages, researchers at the University of California, Riverside said.
Two recent studies found higher crime rates in neighborhoods with a greater number of liquor stores and those that devote a larger percentage of their cooler space to single cans and bottles. Those single servings come in larger sizes, are often discounted and have higher alcohol content.
A 40-ounce bottle of malt liquor, equal to five shots of whiskey, sells for about $3. "Forties," as they are commonly known, often are promoted in songs by gangster rappers.
Singles "are packaged and sold for quick consumption, and they promote over-consumption. I don't know anyone who would drink half a 24-ouncer and put it back in the refrigerator for later," said Amelia Lopez, health education specialist with the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention program at San Bernardino (Calif.) County's Department of Public Health.
Two of the studies' authors advocate that cities ban single-serving alcohol sales for new liquor outlets and enact ordinances allowing for revocation of business licenses for stores that have repeated nuisance calls for panhandling, public drinking, prostitution and related problems.
One of the studies, published in the Drug and Alcohol Review journal, examined alcohol availability and youth homicides in the nation's largest cities from 1984 to 2006, said sociology professor Robert Nash Parker, co-director of UC-Riverside's Robert Presley Center for Crime and Justice Studies. The work was funded in part by grants from the U.S. National Institute of Justice and the Presley Center.
Parker and his colleagues analyzed federal crime data for offenders aged 13 to 17 and 18 to 24, and population and economic data to determine crime rates and the density of liquor stores in 91 large cities in 36 states. Even when accounting for other factors -- such as poverty, drugs, gangs and the availability of guns -- the researchers found that higher densities of liquor stores and easy access to alcoholic beverages contributed significantly to higher youth homicide rates, Parker said.
Nearly 40 percent of the time when there was single serve, there was more crime, said author Dan Skiles of the Institute for Public Strategies. The San Diego-based group pushes for policy changes to improve community health and safety.
In areas where stores devoted 20 percent or more of shelf space to single servings, there were at least 30 incidents of violent crime per 1,000 people. In areas where less than 10 percent of space was allotted to single servings, the violent crime rate ranged between 0.2 and 30 incidents per 1,000 people, the study showed.
A 2007 study, said to be the first of its kind, focused on violent crime and the number of single-serve containers sold at the 165 liquor stores in San Bernardino, Calif.
Researchers found higher crime rates in neighborhoods where outlets devote more than 10 percent of cooler space to singles. In some cases, it was as high as 50 percent, Skiles said.
Single sales often increase associated problems, such as selling to minors and public drinking, he said.
"All those things escalate and you get this spiral effect of economic decline," Skiles said.
Jeff Lenard, a spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores in Alexandria, Va., which represents 2,100 retailers, said stores should be involved in the conversation about stemming crime. Limitations on single sales unfairly target those stores, he said.
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