Newswise — Disproportionately more assaults occur in higher-capacity licensed venues than in their smaller counterparts, according to an Australian study reported in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. Licensed premises are high-risk settings for violent incidents, and a sizeable proportion of all alcohol-related violence occurs within them. Factors linked to aggressive in-venue behavior include inadequate seating, inconvenient bar access, crowded spaces, and drunkenness – which are all more likely in venues with more people (and hence in higher-capacity premises). However, although venue capacity had been proposed as a risk factor for on-premises violence, most previous research has focused on the relationship between crowding and aggression, and on the impact of longer trading hours. In the current study, therefore, researchers investigated the association between venue capacity and the number of violent incidents on-premises; the impact of longer opening hours was also assessed.

The research team obtained venue capacity data (the maximum capacity listed on the liquor license) for all venues in central Melbourne from 2010 until 2016. These data were then matched with police-recorded on-premises assaults that occurred within high alcohol hours (Friday and Saturday 8pm-6am). Assaults occurring on the street were not considered, as these cannot be reliably associated with specific venues.

Although most licensed premises had no recorded assaults, greater venue capacity was strongly associated with an increased risk of on-premises violent incidents for any given venue. Compared with venues with a maximum capacity of 100 patrons or less, those with capacity of more than 100 patrons had increasingly more recorded assaults per year; venues with capacities of 501 to 1000 patrons were over six times more likely to have a recorded assault. Further, for each additional high alcohol hour a venue was open, there was a 72% increase in the number of recorded assaults.

The findings accord with the social factors that elevate the likelihood of aggression. Larger venues provide more situations for crowding and confrontation between groups, and may have larger numbers of intoxicated patrons. Bigger venues also tend to trade later at night, further increasing the likelihood that patrons will encounter hostility and rowdiness.

The analysis highlights the importance of considering venue capacity when assessing the risk of violent incidents for any given venue. The researchers highlight the need for evidence-based public health measures to reduce the risk of violence in the small proportion of venues where assaults occur. As larger venues create a greater burden on community resources, they may require greater support and regulation to reduce the harm associated with their business. For example, restrictions on trading hours, higher licensing fees, and greater monitoring by regulatory authorities in relation to overcrowding may be appropriate. Measures to reduce or limit venue capacity may also be warranted in areas with high levels of alcohol-related harm.

Size does matter: An exploration of the relationship between licensed venue capacity and on-premise assaults.

P.M. Miller, A. Curtis, M. Millsteed, T. Harries, S. Nepal, S. Walker, T. Chikritzhs, K. Coomber (pages xxx)