Drinking in public places is an important setting to take action.
Many people who go on to commit offences have been consuming alcohol in public places.
Public places may also be a popular setting for young people to drink. They can also be used as places to “pre-load” before entering licensed premises or “side-load” between visits to different bars and clubs.
Public place drinking makes people feel unsafe in their communities and has significant costs to Councils through litter, vandalism and other disorderly behaviour.
Alcohol consumption (and anti-social behaviour) can be normalised when we see it occurring in our everyday settings.
Alcohol bans/bylaws in public places can be useful to address harm in your community.
Public place drinking
Drinking in public places is associated with significant harm and disorder and is an important setting to take action .
Police data in 2007/08 identified public places to be the last place for drinking in 18% of alleged offenders who drank alcohol before their offending (14,838 apprehensions) . Almost half (47%) of the alleged offenders were assessed as moderately affected by alcohol and 13% were extremely affected by alcohol at the time of arrest . In other words, around 60% of offenders were assessed at the higher end of intoxication .
Given that it is illegal for young people to drink within licensed premises (except when accompanied by their parent/guardian), public places may be a popular setting for young people to drink . Given the unsupervised nature of this drinking, it presents a significant risk of harm.
Pre-loading and side-loading in public places
Drinking in public places may also be preferred for drinkers who wish to “pre-load” before entering licensed premises. This means that they consume alcohol prior to entering a bar or night club, for example.
Public places may also be used to “side-load”, whereby off-licence alcohol is consumed between visits to different on-licence bars and clubs. Many young people describe the reasons for pre-loading being 1) wanting to get drunk and 2) because off-licence prices are cheaper than the price of alcohol in bars.
In a study of 25 countries, New Zealanders were found to have the 4th-highest prevalence of pre-loading . To address this, we need strategies which increase the price of alcohol at off-licences.
Public place drinking makes people feel unsafe in their communities
Drinking in public places contributes to people feeling unsafe about where they live, work or play. In a New Zealand Quality of Life Survey conducted in 2014 across 6 major cities, over 66% of residents considered alcohol to be a problem in their local areas . Part of these perceptions may be due to public place drinking.
There are also significant costs to councils and ratepayers associated with public drinking, due to the costs resulting from litter, vandalism and other disorderly behaviour. Cleaning up in CBD areas can come at a considerable cost in some towns and cities .
Normalisation of drinking (and violence)
Finally, we should be concerned about the normalisation of alcohol use when it is consumed in public. Just like smoking, alcohol consumption can be normalised when we see it occurring in our everyday settings. This includes the great outdoors (e.g. national parks) and large public events (e.g. music festivals). Large events that sell alcohol present additional risks through exposing young people to drinking as well as exposing them to alcohol advertising and marketing (through sponsorship and alcohol products).
Another issue relating to alcohol-related problems in public areas is the normalisation of anti-social behaviour. It is suggested that when people see alcohol-related violence in night-time areas, not only does it incite fear but it may lead to drinker’s expectations that violence goes hand in hand with drinking . This may result in further violence in night-time areas.
Addressing alcohol use in public places through liquor bylaws
Policies that restrict alcohol use at specific events or locations have the potential to affect public place drinking . To reduce harm, we need to address drinking which is time- and occasion specific, as well public drinking which occurs through casual gatherings.
Time- and occasion-specific drinking is that which is associated with specific situations or events where there are likely to be large congregations of people e.g. sport events, concerts or specific holiday times .Casual gatherings are non-specific events where people drink in public places, carrying a high risk of alcohol-related violence, vandalism and public disorders .
Alcohol bylaws can be especially useful to restrict this type of drinking and therefore reduce harm. To ensure that alcohol bans/bylaws in public places are effective, stakeholders and communities need to work together. Extensive research has found that community partnerships involving police, local authorities, health agencies, community representatives and liquor liaison groups are seen to enhance the effectiveness of liquor bans [9,10]. Such partnerships can improve communication and information-sharing and benefit policing [9,10].
A case study of public place bylaws in New Zealand  found that breaches of alcohol/liquor bans were often resolved by way of warnings or cautions, instead of arrests and prosecutions. As such, the number of reported prosecutions relating to breach offences can be low. People are often found to comply with an officer’s warning .
There is a lack of high quality studies relating to whether alcohol bans reduce harm. A case-study which explored the implementation of a liquor ban at Piha beach (a popular beach in Auckland) found that there was a decline in police call-outs for alcohol-related incidents and motor vehicles crashes . Liquor bans in the Auckland CBD have also been associated with increased perceptions of safety . However, it must be noted that the effectiveness of alcohol bans is closely linked to the level of police enforcement, as found in Wellington City .