In 2005, the U.K. started allowing pubs to extend how late they can serve alcohol—including the possibility to serve 24 hours a day—and the country’s Police Superintendents’ Association (PSA) says the change has led to an increase in alcohol-related crime during early morning hours.
Calls to modernize alcohol service
Prior to Britain’s updated licensing laws, 11 p.m. signaled last call in U.K. pubs. Those in favor of extended and around-the-clock public drinking argued that the early cut off was outdated, especially in comparison to alcohol laws in much of the rest of Europe. In addition, supporters argued that changing the law would curb the tendency for pub patrons to down more drinks as the clock ticked closer to 11 p.m.
Despite concerns that the change would lead to higher rates of drinking and alcohol-involved crime, those problems don’t seem to have emerged. In 2015 the BBC reported that binge drinking was actually lower than before extended hours took effect, and alcohol-involved crime had remained about the same.
Later drinking hours strain police
But while the number of crimes hasn’t changed much, their timing has. The PSA cited examples like Manchester, where the percentage of crimes between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. involving drunk offenders has grown from 8% to more than 20% since 2003. This timing poses challenges for police departments that are often at their lowest staffing levels in the predawn hours. Budgetary constraints mean that departments can’t simply add officers to later shifts without stretching resources during other times of the day.
Extending drinking times in the U.S.
On the other side of the pond, a number of U.S. states are considering similar changes to their licensing laws. For example, earlier this month Tennessee’s governor signed a bill allowing restaurants that are open 24/7 to serve alcohol all day except between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. On the west coast, California is considering Senate Bill 384, which would extend last call in that state to 4 a.m. Supporters believe letting bars and restaurants serve alcohol later and longer will support tourism and the nighttime economy.
The U.K.’s experience could provide a real world case study for similar changes in the U.S. What do you think of extending public drinking hours?