Monday, July 10, 2006

Bars cause assaults?

I saw a bit that caught my eye in the Sunday (Chicago) Tribune about a study published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research (sorry, no link). Apparently the study involved looking for a relationship between the number of bars in an area and the number of overnight hospital stays because of assault. They did indeed find a direct relationship between the number of bars in a given zip code and the number of hospitalized assaults (more bars, more hospitalized assault victims).

While that relationship reached statistical significance, it raises a couple of questions in my mind. I believe that some other points might also have reached significance, but not having seen the original article I don’t know if they were looked at or whether they will be looked at in future research.

By far and away the majority of assaults don’t get hospitalized, so it would be of interest to know if non-hospitalized assaulted individuals also correlated with the number of bars in a zip code. Secondly, it would be interesting to know (particularly in my present role as Coroner) if the number of deaths related to assault also correlated with the number of bars. It is not much of a stretch to believe that both of these quantities would also correlate with bar saturation.

The cause and effect would be a much tougher thing to get at without facts about the individuals involved in the assaults. Certainly, most folks that go to bars are law-abiding, fine upstanding folks and not likely to be involved in assaults. Also, sorry to say, not all bars are created, nor do they “live their lives” equal; some are “rougher” than others. So do we limit the number of bars to decrease violence/assaults or do we need to look at the characteristics of and demographics of the bars and “control” based on that? Are more bars located in some neighborhoods more prone to violence because of other socioeconomic problems? If that is the case do we control their placement or do we patrol those areas more intensively to secondarily prevent violence “greased” by that social lubricant, alcohol?

Regardless, this information should not just be bantered about academically, it should be used to impact a real-life problem. It should engender some real discussion on how to use the information in the community to decrease violence and assaults, and possibly deaths.

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