More bars means more assaults in D.C., study finds

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Local,Maryland,Matt Connolly

Aggravated assaults in D.C. tend to cluster around bars, while there is a link between domestic violence and nearby open liquor stores according to an Urban Institute study.

The relative number of places in an area where people can drink alcohol predicts violence in D.C. on weekend nights, according to the study. During the week, the amount of violence in an area corresponds with the number of places where booze can be bought to consume elsewhere.

"You get fights in bars and in particular fights when people are leaving bars around closing time," said John Roman, a co-author of the study. "It clusters exactly where you think it would cluster -- Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle, U Street."

Roman said that on weekdays, people are more likely to stop at the liquor store after work and drink with their spouse. That tendency to drink with only a spouse around, as opposed to the dozens of people at a bar, makes domestic violence much more likely.

One of the best way to prevent fights and assaults, the study says, is to make sure patrons don't all leave bars at the same time.

"Closing time is particularly bad because people have nowhere to go," Roman said. "If you have a high concentration of alcohol outlets, maybe you want to stagger the closing times so everyone isn't staggering out into Adams Morgan at 3 o'clock in the morning."

Another benefit is to simply crack down on problem bars and dangerous drinkers. Stricter license enforcement, smaller serving sizes and even more watchful employees were mentioned as ways to deter violence.

"We're very good at keeping out underage drinkers, but we don't spend as much time trying to keep out problem drinkers," Roman said. "If you go to these places, the bartenders can probably tell you who the problem drinkers are."

In neighboring Prince George's County, police credited a crackdown on dance halls in part for a drop in crime throughout the county in 2012, including a 6.7 percent decrease in violent crime.

"We have a focus on night club enforcement," said Prince George's police spokeswoman Julie Parker, adding that 13 dance halls were shut down last year.

Dance halls aren't any worse than regular bars, Roman said, and can in fact be safer if the club has enough trained staff working to prevent conflicts. Combating domestic violence can be harder, he added, though raising prices or decreasing the volume of alcoholic drinks available in stores would bring rates down.

mconnolly@washingtonexaminer.com

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