It’s time we talk about crime and alcohol
Opinion editorial by Cayla Murray
Spokesperson for the Minister of Community Safety
It’s no secret that crime, in many cases, is perpetuated by those under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol can impair its user’s judgement and increase aggression. It’s time we unpack the complex relationship between alcohol and crime, and start driving innovative solutions to safeguard our province.
The relationship between crime and alcohol is underpinned by the availability of alcohol. In a study published by the Department of Health in 2012, it was highlighted that alcohol misuse occurs so frequently because alcohol is easy to access and is relatively inexpensive.
What’s more, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has ranked South Africa as the greatest alcohol user on the continent. In turn, this has negative effects on health, society and constrains the economic resources of the country.
These adverse effects have been clearly demonstrated by the Medical Research Council which found that approximately R38 billion was spent by the state to counteract the harmful effects of alcohol misuse including death, illness, disability, crime and road traffic accidents.
You may be asking yourself, what sort of crimes are related to alcohol misuse and why? The Alcohol Rehab Guide explains that there is a significant relationship between alcohol and crime as alcohol can “lower inhibitions, impair a person’s judgement and increase the risk of aggressive behaviors.” While not all the following crimes are committed under the influence of alcohol, those most commonly associated with alcohol include inebriated driving, robbery, sexual assault, aggravated assault, intimate partner violence, child abuse and homicide.
Going one step further, the Western Cape Injury Mortality Survey (2006 to 2016) highlighted that there is a relationship between alcohol and homicides. The report highlighted that alcohol results were available for 80% of homicide deaths and that of those, 50% of homicide deaths tested positive for alcohol. That means that alcohol plays significant role in the number of homicides in the province.
What’s more, over two thirds of homicides occurred between 5pm on a Friday evening and 4am on a Monday morning, hours when individuals are most likely to be consuming alcohol. Over 70% of homicide cases that occurred over weekends tested positive for alcohol. The report concluded that violence and alcohol abuse, particularly among young men, are the biggest contributors to the province’s high injury mortality burden.
Similarly, the WHO’s report entitled, ‘Preventing violence by reducing the availability and harmful use of alcohol’, found that in Diadema, Brazil, a significant number of murders took place in areas with high concentrations of drinking establishments and that violence against women was often linked to alcohol.
To address this, a strictly enforced municipal law and public information campaign were implemented in 2002. This prevented alcohol retailers from selling alcohol after 23:00. Retailers were informed of the law and legal consequences. Consequently, homicides were reduced by almost nine per month, preventing an estimated 319 homicides over three years. Assaults against women decreased over the same period.
In the Western Cape, such pioneering initiatives are driven through the Western Cape Liquor Authority (WCLA). While more can always be done to improve the WCLA and its impact, it has already made tremendous strides.
For instance, through the Alcohol Harms Reduction Games Changer, three additional Inspectors were appointed at the WCLA. Previously, there were only seven Liquor Inspectors. The lack of inspectors hampered effective law enforcement within the liquor industry. The lack of law enforcement meant that more liquor was consumed and the likelihood of alcohol related violence would increase. The Department of Community Safety set aside R2.9 million in 2017/18, to appoint the additional Inspectors.
This ensured that during the 4th quarter of 2018/19, 44 settlement notices, which entails the perpetrator accepting the contravention and not disputing it, were issued to the value of R595 000. This indicated a substantial increase from the 17 settlement notices issued in the third quarter and has helped to address violence caused by alcohol within affected communities. The contracts of these Inspectors have been extended for a period of 12 months for the 2019/20 financial year.
There can be no doubt that the consumption of alcohol is linked to crime. As part of the comprehensive Safety Plan announced by Premier Winde, Minister Fritz will in the coming months address the issue of alcohol harm reduction strategies. This will include reviewing a number issues, including that of legislation, pricing, enforcement of regulations and stricter measures for infringements. Whilst there are many factors to be considered in terms of the complex interplay of alcohol and crime, this is surely an important step in the right direction.