Earlier bar closings may curb violence

By Tom Nordlie • Published: January 7th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

There’s no getting around it, alcohol and nightlife go together.

Sometimes, they have another companion: random violence.

Government officials want to reduce street crime, of course.

One action that’s often proposed is forcing bars to close earlier.

It’s a controversial move. Some people call it anti-freedom and anti-business.

But does it really curb violence?

In one Australian city, the answer is yes.

An article in the journal Addiction provides a case study based on events in Newcastle.

It’s home to half a million people.

In 2007, residents and police officials formally complained to the city about fighting, vandalism and general disorder in a nightlife area called the central business district.

In response, the city enacted an ordinance that only applied to the district. It changed the bar closing hour from five A-M to three-thirty.

Researchers wanted to gauge the law’s effects. So they gathered police reports on late-night violence in the area.

The reports covered seven years before the ordinance took force, and eighteen months after.

Researchers gathered similar reports for another Newcastle neighborhood called Hamilton, where bars stayed open ’til five.

The results showed that in the district, late-night violence declined thirty-four percent after the ordinance took effect.

Meanwhile, in Hamilton, the amount of nighttime violence stayed the same.

At least it suggests there weren’t troublemakers coming into Hamilton as a result of the ordinance.

This study will probably draw attention from people on all sides of the bar-closing issue.

That’s a good thing.

Public policy ought to take science into account.

And that goes double for public policy on controversial topics.