Crime in a Bottle

The city of San Bernardino has so many liquor stores that state regulators with the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control won’t issue new liquor licenses there, said Amelia Sanchez-Lopez, who coordinates substance-abuse prevention programs for the county health department and is a city planning commissioner. The city has nearly twice the number of liquor retail outlets currently allowed by the state, she said, and they tend to be particularly prevalent in the city’s poorest and most gang-infested neighborhoods.

San Bernardino city officials suspected that an overabundance of liquor stores was negatively impacting the quality of life for community residents. In neighborhood meetings and on the streets, residents complained that too many of those stores attracted drug dealers, prostitutes and gangs. The vast majority of calls summoning police involved alcohol in some way.

But there was little beyond anecdotal evidence to help officials of the state’s 17th-largest city — and the nation’s second- poorest large city — determine how much of the community’s crime and social issues could be attributed to the plethora of liquor stores, many of which had been in business for decades. At the same time, the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health and the nonprofit Institute for Public Strategies each were considering new ways to combat the impacts of alcohol abuse in the community, which they believed to be significant.

So in 2007, public health officials and institute leaders consulted with UC Riverside sociologist Robert Nash Parker, shown above, known nationally for his pioneering research on the relationship between alcohol and crime. Over the next four years, research teams led by UCR produced two groundbreaking studies, which concluded that violent crime could be reduced significantly if policymakers were to limit the number of neighborhood liquor stores and ban the sale of single-serve containers of alcoholic beverages.

“These results suggest that alcohol control can be an important tool in violence prevention,” explained Parker, who is co-director of the Presley Center for Crime and Justice Studies at UCR. “Policies designed to reduce outlet density can provide relief from violence in and around these neighborhood outlets. And banning or reducing the sales of single-serve, ready-to-consume containers of alcohol can have an additional impact on preventing violence.”


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