The Impact of Single-Container Malt Liquor Sales Restrictions on Urban Crime


Many US cities have adopted legal restrictions on high-alcohol malt liquor sales in response to reports of crime and nuisance behaviors around retail alcohol outlets. We assessed whether these policies are effective in reducing crime in urban areas. We used a rigorous interrupted time-series design with comparison groups to examine monthly crime rates in areas surrounding alcohol outlets in the 3 years before and after adoption of malt liquor sales restrictions in two US cities. Crime rates in matched comparison areas not subject to restrictions served as covariates. Novel methods for matching target and comparison areas using virtual neighborhood audits conducted in Google Street View are described. In Minneapolis, Minnesota, sales of single containers of 16 oz or less were prohibited in individual liquor stores (n = 6). In Washington, D.C., the sale of single containers of any size were prohibited in all retail alcohol outlets within full or partial wards (n = 6). Policy adoption was associated with modest reductions in crime, particularly assaults and vandalism, in both cities. All significant outcomes were in the hypothesized direction. Our results provide evidence that retail malt liquor sales restrictions, even relatively weak ones, can have modest effects on a range of crimes. Policy success may depend on community support and concurrent restrictions on malt liquor substitutes.

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This research was supported by funding from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, grant number R01AA020496.

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Correspondence to Patricia McKee.

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McKee, P., Erickson, D.J., Toomey, T. et al. The Impact of Single-Container Malt Liquor Sales Restrictions on Urban Crime. J Urban Health 94, 289–300 (2017).

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  • Alcohol
  • Local policy
  • Malt liquor
  • Chronic public inebriation