Distilling violent crime connections

Pine Bluff Police Chief Jeff Hubanks has repeatedly acknowledged that any serious effort to curb violent crime in our community will require a willingness to make broad changes — both in how the police assail the issue and how the community itself responds. To this point, the chief has introduced a number of new strategies, all driven by the agency’s new emphasis on data-driven practice.

We applaud this effort to work smarter and follow the numbers. We also know that a comprehensive solution to the local problem of violent crime will require the community’s commitment to a similar data-driven approach.

As regular readers know, the Pine Bluff City Council has spent a lot of time discussing policies regulating the sale of alcohol by certain establishments in the city. Without rehashing any of that painful debate, a handful of well-vetted statistics concerning the connection between alcohol use and violent crime bear deep reflection and informed changes in social policy.

As the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence reports, “The relationship between alcohol and crimes including domestic abuse and violence, underage drinking, robbery, assault and sexual assault is clearly documented.”

Similarly, the U.S. Department of Justice observes that a majority of criminal offenders were under the influence of alcohol alone when they committed their crimes. USDOJ research shows that for 40 percent of convicted murderers, alcohol use was a factor in the homicide.

According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, about 3 million violent crimes occur each year in which victims perceive the offender to have been drinking. Corollary to this, multiple sources confirm that: 37 percent of rapes and sexual assaults; 15 percent of robberies; 27 percent of aggravated assaults, and; 25 percent of simple assaults known to U.S. police agencies were committed under the influence of alcohol.

The USDOJ further reports that among violent crimes, the offender is far more likely to have been drinking than under the influence of other drugs, with the exception of robberies, where other drugs are more likely to have been used.

According to the NCVS, alcohol is more likely to be a factor in violence, where the attacker and the victim know each other. Two-thirds of victims who were attacked by a current or former intimate partner reported that alcohol had been involved, and only 31 percent of victimizations by strangers are alcohol-related.

Add to this the fact that every year nearly 500,000 incidents between intimates involve offenders who have been drinking; in addition, 118,000 incidents of family violence involve alcohol, as do 744,000 incidents among acquaintances. Of special note is the fact that 70 percent of alcohol-related incidents of violence occur in the home with greatest frequency at 11 p.m. Approximately 20 percent of these incidents involve the use of a weapon other than hands, fists or feet.

In the face of all these facts we still have an especially complex problem. The vast weight of evidence documents the strong connection between alcohol and violence. Even so, purchasing and consuming alcohol are all perfectly legal as long as an individual is at least 21 years of age.

How then do we successfully interdict illegal behavior that is strongly-related to a completely legal activity? Adults have the freedom to consume as much alcohol as their pocketbooks and body can tolerate. In essence, we cannot legislate morality.

Alcohol, for better or worse, is a part of our culture. Unfortunately, so is alcohol-related violent crime. As we struggle to get a handle on violent crime in Pine Bluff we must recognize the criminal consequences of alcohol misuse. We must treat this not just as a matter of crime, but as a matter of public health. We cannot legislate out of existence the misuse of alcohol; yet we must find a way to circumscribe its contribution to our local violent crime.