Liquor, Disorder, and Crime in Wisconsin
By John DiIulio, Jr.
There is a significant body of scientific evidence that links alcohol availability and consumption to community disorder, violent crime, and other major social problems. This report examines the liquor-disorder-crime nexus in Wisconsin. Part One of the report summarizes the scientific evidence on the relationship between alcohol and crime. Part Two of the report discusses alcohol-control laws in Wisconsin and documents the spatial concentration of liquor outlets in Milwaukee’s poor, minority, high-crime neighborhoods. Part Three offers a set of ideas and proposals for restricting the availability and consumption of alcohol in Milwaukee.
This report finds that Wisconsin has a loose alcohol-control regime that permits liquor outlets to be concentrated in Milwaukee’s inner-city neighborhoods. The concentration of liquor outlets in these places is almost certainly a major factor in their social demise and high rates of criminal victimization. In 1982, two prominent criminologists proposed the “broken-windows” thesis: when a broken window in a building goes unfixed, soon all of its windows are broken. The broken window is an invitation to incivility, unruly behavior, community apathy, public disorder, and crime. This report extends this famous and now well-documented thesis. “Broken bottles” — concentrations of liquor outlets in distressed urban neighborhoods — fuel community breakdown and increase predatory street crime. Poor, minority neighborhoods where alcohol is readily available and liquor outlets are everywhere one turns seem to have more severe disorder and crime problems than otherwise-comparable neighborhoods where alcohol consumption and availability are average or below average.
This report concludes with five recommendations
- Conduct systematic empirical research into the relationship between alcohol-outlet densities and crime;
- Impose stricter zoning ordinances for liquor stores throughout Milwaukee;
- Limit alcohol-beverage advertising in Milwaukee;
- Launch a multi-year, neighborhood-level demonstration research project in Milwaukee to test the effects of policies that restrict alcohol availability against the effects of policies that prohibit all alcohol sales; and,
- Do not lower the legal drinking age in Wisconsin or enact other measures that would only serve to strengthen the links between alcohol, disorder, crime, and other major social problems in the state, especially Milwaukee.