Last call for informed policy

Up for its final reading on Monday is a proposal to roll back the closing time for local bars and nightclubs. The effort is spearheaded by Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth and supported by Interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks. We strongly support adoption of this measure.

In this time of continuing violence, changes must be made. “Business as usual” means death and injury as usual. Even if the new closing times financially pinch some of these establishments, the trade-off is still worth it. The experience of other cities facing similar problems proves the point.

A 2002 study published in the American Journal of Public Health observes: “The mayor was concerned about the high murder rate, and police statistics showed that most murders and assaults on women occurred in or close to bars between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. As a result, in July 2002, a new law was introduced… that closed all bars at 11 p.m. (that led to a) 44 percent reduction in homicides and 56 percent reduction on assaults against women.”

Then there’s a 2008 study by the European Alcohol Care Alliance that found a 17 percent increase in violence for each additional hour that bars and nightclubs remain open.

Similarly, a study published in the journal Addiction found that stretching bar and nightclub opening times by just one hour significantly increases alcohol-related violence.

Authors Ingeborg Rossow and Thor Norstrom report that over the past 10 years many… cities have extended or restricted their closing hours by one or two hours. This offered scope for a “natural experiment,” tracking the effect of these small changes on drunken violence. They found a one-hour bar extension increased violent assaults by 20 per year for every 100,000 of population — a 16 percent increase. The reverse also holds: one-hour-earlier closings were linked to significantly less violence.

We could also build on the experience of Lawrence, Mass. Lawrence Police Chief John Romero’s department conducted a pilot program that led to a 50 percent reduction in violent crime. As Romero stated: “If you have a 2 a.m. closing, people are coming to your city looking for a late closing, and more often than not, they’ve already been drinking. After 2 a.m. there’s no place to drink legally and they’re staying and hanging around. That’s when problems develop.”

Of course, local club owners will vociferously protest any fetter on their business. They’ll tell a plaintive tale about their staff and suppliers all suffering. We suggest they approach this from the big-picture perspective. No one is trying to put them out of business — just reduce the negative side of the equation.

All business ventures carry risks. A business predicated on selling alcohol carries substantially increased risks. That’s why one must get a special license to sell the stuff.

It also happens that businesses selling alcohol for on-site consumption pose additional risks to the neighborhoods surrounding them. That fact has been demonstrated innumerable times throughout the scientific literature and police records.

In our local case, the number and concentration of clubs ensures that the risks ripple out all across the city. Moreover, when the police are dealing with the 200-300 percent increase in violence that occurs after 2 a.m., they’re unavailable to tend other matters — like patrolling your neighborhood or keeping burglars out of your business.

We can allow ourselves to be swayed by the ire of club owners or we can do what’s right for the city. Times change. We have to change. Any town can have a drunken late night rabble, but that’s not who we need to be.