Kyle Burgason

An Iowa State University study finds when bar and nightclub owners beef up security, they can help reduce crime for a whole neighborhood.

ISU sociology professor Kyle Burgason researched how a city ordinance in Little Rock, Arkansas, which forced taverns to upgrade their nighttime precautions resulted in extending that protection for blocks around.

“It doesn’t just have to be people. It doesn’t just have to be law enforcement officers,” Burgason says. “Certainly, that can make a great difference from what we found, but it can be increased video surveillance, it can be increased lighting, anything that helps that environment become proactive and less attractive to criminality.” Before moving to Ames, Burgason lived in Little Rock and often heard about the violence that surrounded the taverns. It led him to launch a study of the problem and the effectiveness of the ordinance which aimed to reduce the crime risk.

“Anytime you can be more proactive in what you’re doing and give some of that power to stop crime before it happens back to the owners, it’s a good thing,” Burgason says. “Normally, it’s very much a reactive situation. You don’t get the police called or you don’t get law enforcement called until there’s a problem.”

The ISU research found that initially, people within a half block of the bars saw an increased risk, in some cases up to 500 times greater risk, to be exposed to violent crime. However, that risk dropped dramatically a year after the city put the ordinance in place requiring bar owners to raise their levels of security.

“Bars and clubs or anyplace that serves alcohol to people can serve as a crime generator and attractor,” Burgason says. “By nature alone, it draws in people and can act to lower their inhibitions.” The success of the ordinance isn’t exclusive to Little Rock, Burgason says. He says other cities tackling crime near bars could take similar action with the same results.

The research is being published the Journal of Criminal Justice.