BEHAVIOR
October 20, 2010

Last Call...Already?

An earlier last call at bars can lower the number of assaults and other alcohol-related violence.

A recent study from New South Wales, Australia suggests that earlier closing times for bars can lower the amount of alcohol-related violence in the surrounding community.

The researchers found that the earlier pub closings resulted in a 37% reduction in reported assaults in Newcastle, about 132 fewer assaults per year. Because only one in three assaults are thought to be reported to the police, the actual yearly drop in assaults was likely much larger.

A law requiring earlier pub closings was introduced in the central business district of Newcastle, Australia in March 2008. In the next 18 months, night-time assaults fell by roughly one-third. In nearby Hamilton, where the law was not in effect, night-time assaults rose slightly. This suggests that earlier pub closings lead to fewer assaults.

The researchers found that the earlier pub closings resulted in a 37% reduction in reported assaults in Newcastle, about 132 fewer assaults per year. Because only one in three assaults are thought to be reported to the police, the actual yearly drop in assaults was likely much larger. And the results also indicated that assaults occurring between 3 and 6 a.m. dropped by 67%.

While not a precisely controlled study, implementation of the law allowed researchers to make a comparison of the effect of earlier pub closing times on violence. Previously, Newcastle's pubs closed at 5 a.m. The March law initially required that 14 of the 29 pubs in Newcastle's central business district close at 3 a.m., with a 1 a.m. lockout: customers already in the pubs could continue to drink until closing time, but no new patrons were admitted after 1 a.m. Additionally, bars could not sell shots after 10 p.m. and had to stop selling alcohol 30 minutes prior to closing. These provisions were relaxed on July 29 to a 3:30 a.m. closing with a 1:30 a.m. lockout.

The number of assaults occurring between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. was determined from police records. The numbers from Jan 2001-Mar 2008 were compared with those from April 2008-September 2009, both within the Newcastle central business district and nearby Hamilton, and between the two locations.

The researchers note that their study has some shortcomings. It compared assaults in the central business district of a city with those occurring in a suburb, though like the Newcastle business district, the suburb of Hamilton is considered to be an entertainment area. And pubs in Hamilton allegedly began voluntarily adopting portions of the new law as early as November 2008, though later reports cast doubt on the truth of this. But neither of these factors can explain away the large decrease in assaults that occurred in Newcastle.

Despite the study findings, not everyone is convinced that earlier last calls are the best way to lower alcohol-related violence. As reported in Medline, the city of Seattle is considering a different approach to reduce its alcohol-related violence. Working on the assumption that violence comes from large numbers of intoxicated people flooding the streets at closing time, Seattle is trying to determine the best way to spread them out. Proposals include changing the current 2 a.m. closing time to 4 a.m. or even allowing bars to remain open for 24 hours. Another proposal recommends staggered closing times for bars, to limit the number of drunken people emerging onto the street at any one particular time.

An early view version of an article detailing the study was published online by the journal Addiction on September 15, 2010 and is freely available.

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