Page last updated: Tuesday, November 18, 2008
International Centre for Alcohol Policies. ICAP Reports ‘Violence and Licensed Premises’
reviewed by Ann Hansford
Much attention has focused on the management and containment of violence in and around licensed premises (such as bars and other drinking venues) over the past decade. This report by ICAP examines some of the prevention strategies used to combat this violence, as well as some of the theories that underpin them.

The report does not discuss the contextual issues of density of retail outlets and permitted hours and days for beverage sales. The report states that substantial bodies of literature provide evidence both supporting and negating positive associations. Therefore, the focus of the report is on the responsible operations of licensed premises, irrespective of the contextual situation within which they are operating.

It should be noted that that the vast majority of the research literature in this area relates to Anglo-Saxon drinking cultures, however there may be lessons relevant to other cultures.

The research into violence discussed in this paper is primarily concerned with brawlsand bar fights, especially when management practices and responsibilities can make a difference.

Recent research has identified 5 groupings of possible explanations for violence related to alcohol consumption and violence on licensed premises. These include: the risk taking effects of alcohol; the cognitive impairment due to alcohol; hyper-emotional effects of alcohol; the ‘macho’ subculture associated with drinking; and the permissive environment that some licensed premises provide.

Intervention strategies appear to be more successful when one or more of these factors are addressed. One particular predictor of harm has been identified as bar staff continuing to serve ‘obviously intoxicated’ patrons, therefore server intervention programs have been developed as a means of preventing harm and relating positively to customers. These programs have been implemented in both the public and private sectors in a number of different countries from New Zealand, Malta and Netherlands to the United Kingdom. The programs aim to educate servers and door staff about the legal and social responsibilities of serving alcohol, as well as to intervene effectively when problems occur. The programs very from country to country for example SIPS ( Server Intervention Programme Scotland) focuses on educating servers about liability issues, whereas TIP (Training in Intervention Procedures for Servers of Alcohol) USA emphasizes the importance of server judgement in reducing drunk driving. These programs are often funded by alcohol producers for example Diago supports Bartender Project in Brazil and Coors USA supports Being an Alcohol Responsible Server (BARS). Such approaches have reported moderate success, especially when combined with enforcement.

Another important method of reducing violence involving alcohol has been responsible managements practices. Research has shown that violent episodes were strongly correlated with several factors, including the % of drunken patrons,quality of ventilation, level of cleanliness, patron mix, group sizes, consumption levels and the time spent drinking.

A recent Australian study concluded that the level of violence on licensed premises could be substantially reduced by changes to management and regulation, the key areas being alcohol supply policy, crowd control policy, service efficiency and inter-community relationships. Also altered design or increased server intervention have influenced customer satisfaction.

One method of reducing the damage caused by violence in and around licensed premises involves the removal of possible harm-causing objects,such as broken bottles or glass. A more durable glass, 6 times stronger than a conventional beer glass has been developed which when broken disintegrates into small pieces rather than larger chunks likely to cause injury and several brewers have begun marketing plastic beer bottles. Another innovation , tentatively called ‘smart beermat’ aims to prevent violence against women in bars. By dabbing a specially designed coaster with the drink they are consuming, women can test their drink for various sleep-inducing drugs.

The availability of food has also been associated with a reduced risk of aggression and many establishments have also taken measures to offer a wider selection of non-alcoholic beverages, including soda, juice and coffee. Intoxication levels have also been shown to decrease with certain types of entertainment such as dancing, playing games and listening to specific kinds of live music. However, aggressive music and entertainment such as wrestling can actually induce aggressive behaviour, along with unregulated betting on bar games, such a pool.

A substantial body of research exists that show enforcement strategies are highly effective methods of reducing problems in and around licensed premises The TASC Project in Cardiff City Wales pioneered one such partnership between police forces and licensed premises. Police established a more prominent presence in city centres and trained bar staff to deal with potentially violent situations. A media campaign was also launched. Else where in the UK, police intervention to reduce underage drinking consisted of warning letters and visits to vendors known to sell alcohol to underage patrons was not successful.

The development of community interventions programs or ‘accords’, marks another approach to the reduction of violence in public drinking places. Accords are comprehensive, community based partnerships that work with those most affected by on-license violence, citizens living close to the drinking venue itself. The programs combine 2 elements -education (changing behaviour through increased awareness) and the environment (changing social and economic systems). The implementation of a successful partnership involves several steps. Firstly rules and codes of practice must be developed. Secondly, conscience must be stimulated by encouraging managers to regard themselves as responsible businessmen and thirdly availability of alcohol must be controlled through server intervention. Compliance with agreed codes of practice must be facilitated by creating a regulatory environment in which adherence is finically worth while for licensees. Police and local authorities typically coordinate accords by enlisting the co-operation of commercial operators of drinking establishments and then establishing the common aims and principles of the accord.

The report presents an overview of some of the common strategies that are used to reduce violence in and around licensed premises.It reviews the elements condusive to safe environments, such as awareness of accepted serving practices, attention to physical design of an establishment, as well as the proper training of servers and door staff. It also illustrated the importance of broad-based community partnerships.

For copies of the report, please contact ICAP via phone: 00 1 202 986 1159, fax: 001 202 986 2080. Or visit the website:
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