Serious Crime and the Public Consumption of Alcohol

Serious Crime and the Public Consumption of Alcohol

Serious Crime and the Public Consumption of Alcohol

Serious Crime and the Public Consumption of Alcohol


This study began with a single observation. Two separate and distinct street parties and their associated crime and violence ended following passage of local laws that prohibit the public consumption of beer. After passage of the first public drinking prohibition, rates of serious crime significantly decreased. After four years of enforcement, citizens repealed the drinking prohibition and serious crime statistically increased to rates similar to those before enacting the prohibition. Rates of serious crime failed to decrease following passage of the second law despite both prohibitions and street parties took place in the same community at different times.

This study then identified ten communities that also passed local ordinances prohibiting the public consumption of beer. Eight of these communities experienced a decrease in serious crime rates after prohibiting the public consumption of beer. However, only one city (other than Stillwater) showed statistical significance at the .05 level. Since a public consumption law does not prohibit beer drinking, only public drinking, I questioned what social controls were present inside bars that were diminished or absent when people drink on public streets and sidewalks. I questioned if identifying these social controls could account for changes in crime rates after passing public drinking prohibitions and why communities differed in their reaction to public drinking bans. I also questioned why Stillwater differed in its crime rate reactions to drinking prohibitions that were passed at different times.

To answer these questions, I established four categories of bars and studied the social controls at work inside and around these type bars both in Stillwater where public drinking is prohibited and in Ponca City where public drinking is allowed. The typology scheme worked well when given appropriate time for bar classifications. Nonparticipant observation provided the appropriate methodology for . . .


During 1993 U.S. police arrested almost three million persons under the age of 18. These arrests accounted for only 13 percent of known violent offenses (Maguire and Pastore, 1994). In 1996 youths ages 12 to 20 accounted for 9.5 million drinkers. Of these, 4.4 million practice binge drinking. The same study indicated that 45 percent of students grades six to eight reported drinking within the previous year (Bilchik, 1998). The US Department of Education (1993) reports that as many as 52 percent of college age offenders were under the influence of alcohol when they committed their crime. The National Criminal Justice Association (1998) calculates that alcohol is involved in 40 percent of violent crimes and fatal accidents. This equals over 183,000 rapes, 197,000 robberies, 661,000 aggravated assaults and 1.7 million simple assaults annually.

The common perception and the research literature support a strong positive correlation between alcohol consumption and crime (Stitt and Giacopassi, 1992). In a 1987 survey, the Department of Justice found that almost 32 percent of juveniles housed in long-term juvenile institutions were drunk while committing their offense. The survey also reported that over 55 percent of the juveniles admitted that they drank at least once a week the year before being arrested. Washbrook (1977) surveyed 5,000 Birmingham, England adult prisoners and found that 54 percent consumed alcohol within 24 hours before committing their criminal act.

The relationship between alcohol and crime persist both in public and in the home. Murdoch, Pihl and Ross (1990) found a positive correlation between domestic violence and either offender, victim, or offender and victim drinking. National surveys indicate that 27 percent of respondents say that alcohol causes family trouble (Maguire and Pastore, 1993). Temple (1998) reports that half of college students experiment with binge drinking. O Neal (1998)

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