Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Understanding Your Local Problem

The information provided above is only a generalized description of the problem of assaults in and around bars. You must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Analyzing the local problem helps in designing a more effective response strategy.

Stakeholders

In addition to criminal justice agencies, the following groups have an interest in the assaults-in-and-around-bars problem and ought to be considered for the contribution they might make both to gathering information about the problem and to responding to it:

  • risk managers/liability insurance agents for bars
  • local liquor retailer associations
  • bank officials holding mortgages or business loans on bars
  • emergency medical personnel/treatment facilities
  • substance-abuse treatment organizations
  • neighborhood residents
  • other business owners
  • employees in the vicinity of bars.

For further information on how police can work effectively with other stakeholders, see the Problem-Solving Tools Guide titled Partnering With Businesses To Address Public Safety Problems.

Asking the Right Questions

The following are some critical questions you should ask in analyzing your particular problem of assaults in and around bars, even if the answers are not always readily available. Your answers to these and other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on. The various entities with a stake in the problem and its solution will be helpful in collecting some of these data, as not all of the information will be readily available to police.†

† See Tierney and Hobbs (2003) for guidance on sharing responsibility for data collection among those concerned about assaults in and around bars. In addition, see Hopkins (2004) for an example of using the SARA model to analyze a local problem with assaults in bars.

Incident Characteristics

  • Is the problem primarily one of bar fights, public inebriates assaulting one another, strong-arm robberies, sexual assaults, bias-motivated assaults, or something else?
  • What precipitates the attacks (e.g., verbal exchanges/insults, threats, disagreements, long-standing disputes, or advances to girlfriends/boyfriends)?
  • Do the assaults stem from conflicts between individuals or between groups? If groups, are they criminal groups such as gangs?
  • Do the precipitating conflicts initiate in the bar or elsewhere? How/why does verbal aggression escalate into physical assaults?
  • Is there a widespread perception that certain bars or entertainment districts are dangerous because of assaults?
  • What weapons, if any, do offenders use in assaults? Do either the offenders or the victims bring weapons to the bar, or do they convert items found in the bar into weapons?

Victims

  • Who is assaulted?
  • Do victims report the assaults to the police? (Surveys of patrons and emergency room admissions may reveal unreported assaults.)†
  • If victims do not report their assaults, why not?
  • What are the characteristics of victims who report compared with those who do not?
  • Are victims typically drunk?
  • Are victims alone or in groups?
  • Are victims members of any ethnic or other subcultural group?
  • Are many of the victims underage drinkers?
  • How serious are victims’ injuries?
  • Do victims typically instigate assaults?
  • Are there chronic assault victims?
  • Do victims typically know their assailants?

† A recent study of the problem of assaults in bars relied heavily on data collection from emergency room patients by nurses involved (Maguire and Nettleton 2003).

Offenders

  • How old are offenders? Do they belong to any particular ethnic, occupational, recreational, or other group?
  • Are offenders alone or in groups?
  • Are there repeat offenders? Do they have prior criminal records for assault?
  • Are offenders typically known as troublemakers in bars?
  • Are offenders typically drunk? Do they get drunk in the same bar in or around which the assaults occur?
  • Are offenders themselves injured in the fights/assaults? How seriously?
  • Are offenders heavy drinkers? Do they have histories of alcohol-related problems (e.g., commitments to detoxification centers)?

Locations/Times

  • In or around which bars are assaults concentrated?
  • Where, specifically, do assaults occur (e.g., inside/outside, restrooms, alleys, streets/sidewalks, parking lots, or around the bar)?
  • What is the nature of the surrounding neighborhood (e.g., entertainment district or primarily residential/commercial/ industrial)?
  • Are the bars on or near major roadways?
  • Do the people in or conditions of the bars themselves appear to generate the violence, or are bars merely affected by other conditions in the surrounding neighborhood?
  • When do assaults occur (e.g., closing time, happy hour, special events, or weekends)?
  • What public transportation is accessible after closing hours (e.g., buses, trains, or taxis)?
  • Is there a high concentration of bars in areas with high reported assault levels?
  • What are the lighting conditions both inside and outside bars? Do assaults occur in dark areas or areas not easily seen by passers-by?
  • Are there objects outside bars that offenders can readily use as weapons (e.g., loose stones or trash receptacles)?

Bar Management Practices

  • What is the primary theme of a typical problem bar?
  • Does the bar serve food, or is it available nearby?
  • Does the bar offer discounted drinks? What entertainment, if any, does the bar offer? Does the entertainment contribute to aggression?
  • Does the bar employ bouncers? If so, do they tend to be aggressive when dealing with troublesome patrons? Do bar managers conduct proper background checks on bouncers before hiring them? Are bar employees properly trained?
  • What is the ratio of bar employees to patrons? Is it sufficient to provide timely service and monitor patrons’ drinking and behavior?
  • Do bar employees call the police under appropriate circumstances? Do bar managers encourage or discourage police inspectional visits?
  • Are employees encouraged to push altercations out of the bar?
  • Are employees trained to recognize signs of drunkenness, to refuse service diplomatically, and to defuse aggression? Does management have written policies regarding these practices, expect employees to follow them, and support them when they do?
  • What conduct does the bar prohibit? Do employees effectively enforce those prohibitions?
  • Is the bar décor attractive, and interior lighting adequate?
  • Does the bar commonly reach or exceed occupancy limits?
  • Do competitive events (e.g., playing pool, darts, rolling dice) lead to assaults?
  • Does the bar discourage barhopping (e.g., restrict reentry, charge entry fees, or prohibit carrying out drinks)?
  • Does the bar have items that patrons can readily use as weapons?
  • Does the physical setting (e.g., the presence of sharp-edged bar tops or glass) create risks of serious injuries?

Regulation and Enforcement Practices

  • Do the police or liquor-license regulators routinely inspect bars for compliance with regulations?
  • Do they inspect for serving practices and occupancy limits, in addition to technical license requirements?
  • Do the police or regulators take enforcement actions?
  • Do bar owners believe police will enforce laws?
  • Do they perceive enforcement actions as fair?

Measuring Your Effectiveness

You should take measures of your problem before you implement responses, to determine how serious the problem is, and after you implement them, to determine whether they have been effective. Measurement allows you to determine to what degree your efforts have succeeded, and suggests how you might modify your responses if they are not producing the intended results. For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see the Problem-Solving Tools guide, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers. The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to assaults in and around bars:†

† See Graham (2000) for a model evaluation strategy for interventions to reduce harmful behavior by bar patrons.

  • reduced number of assaults
  • reduced calls for police service for fights and assaults (assuming you are confident that police are being called when appropriate)
  • reduced severity of injuries caused by assaults (it may be possible to reduce the degree of injury, even if the number of assaults does not decline)
  • increased reporting of assaults to police, if you suspect that many assaults are not being reported (you might compare emergency room records with police records)
  • fewer repeat victims and repeat offenders
  • greater perception of safety among bar patrons, neighboring merchants, and residents
  • increased profitability of bars with high assault rates (bars with high assault rates typically lose money).