The Effectiveness of Alcohol Impact Areas in Reducing Crime in Washington Neighborhoods

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Background: We evaluated the effectiveness of Alcohol Impact Areas (AIA) in reducing crime around off-premise alcohol outlets in 3 AIAs in Spokane and Tacoma, Washington, using an interrupted time series design with comparison groups. AIAs only exist in Washington and include designated areas in a city where specific brands of malt liquor are restricted. We hypothesized that mandatory restrictions on malt liquor sales in AIAs would be significantly associated with decreases in crime, especially less-serious crime. Methods: In Spokane and Tacoma, targets were 3 AIAs and 3 comparison areas with demographically similar neighborhoods without malt liquor restrictions in the same respective city. Nine different crime outcomes were evaluated: Part I selected crimes, Part II selected crimes (further split into nuisance crimes and other Part II crimes), assaults, vandalism, narcotics, disorderly conduct, and all selected crimes combined. Crime was typically compared 3 years prior to and 3 years following policy adoption using time series and negative-binomial modeling. Separate models were run for each area and each crime. Results: Study hypotheses were partially supported. Malt liquor restrictions in AIAs were associated with significant decreases in crime, particularly certain Part II crimes and assaults (simple and aggravated) in 12 of the 23 models. The strength of the observed associations varied by AIA. Average monthly crime counts across all crime categories decreased more in the Tacoma AIA than in Spokane AIAs, and average monthly crime decreased more in Spokane AIA 2 (East Central) than in AIA 1 (Downtown Core). Malt liquor restrictions were significantly associated with increases in disorderly conduct in the Tacoma AIA; the increase, however, was small. Conclusions: Findings suggest that malt liquor policies such as AIAs may be one of a number of tools local officials can use to reduce alcohol-related crime in cities, especially less-serious crime.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)234-241
Number of pages8
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank William Baker for his assistance with data management and Elyse Less Levine for her help with legal analyses. We also wish to thank Ms. Mary Segawa, Public Health Education Liaison at the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board for her comments on the paper. This study was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (#R01 020496).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 by the Research Society on Alcoholism


  • Alcohol
  • Alcohol Impact Area
  • Crime
  • Malt Liquor
  • Policy


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