The Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project is the only project in Wisconsin focused exclusively on improving Wisconsin’s alcohol environment through technical assistance, training and tools for local leaders. 

In addition to work with specific communities, the project advises local government, local elected officials, members of the Legislature and media on alcohol-related topics.

Excessive alcohol use costs Wisconsin residents $6.8 billion annually. Local alcohol regulation and licensing has resulted in a number of natural experiments where similar but different public policies have been adopted and implemented. Wisconsin’s alcohol policy is largely municipal with a division of responsibilities and authority between municipalities and state government. The focus on local control gives municipalities both the responsibility and authority to address alcohol-related issues community-wide.

Unlike most other states, Wisconsin awards alcohol licenses at the municipal level. While municipalities have discretion in awarding licenses, once awarded a license may only be suspended, revoked or non-renewed for cause.

A comparison of existing policies and analysis of the difference in outcomes could provide useful information to communities considering adoption and implementation. Analysis would likely include a detailed timeline of the policy development, analysis of the specific provisions review of municipal, law enforcement and court data, and interviews.

Potential topics

Measuring alcohol-outlet density in Wisconsin and evaluating consequences

Clusters or an over-concentration of alcohol outlets is known to result in higher rates of alcohol-related crime and disorder. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Community Guides recommends communities limit the number of alcohol outlets for the purpose of controlling alcohol-related problems including binge drinking. Alcohol outlet density and the consequences of over-concentrations of outlets is a serious problem in Wisconsin. While it is clear that more outlets create problems, methods to quantify outlet density have not been systematically tested in Wisconsin.

This project would test the methods proposed by the CDC in 2017 to measure outlet density methods in several Wisconsin municipalities, determine what information is currently publically available, what information may only be available locally and what other resources are needed to create meaningful alcohol outlet density measurement for Wisconsin. To advance an understanding of the relationship between alcohol outlet density in Wisconsin and crime, illegal activity and disorder, an individual with solid statistical would be able to create a database of local crime/disorder data and comparing different density levels to rates of alcohol-related crime and disorder. Of course, this exercise cannot establish causality but it can provide additional insight in to how such analysis data can provide guidance on alcohol licensure to local elected leaders.

Some aspects early approaches to mapping and outlet density studies in Wisconsin are available for use in this effort. The Wisconsin Health Department, Division of Health Informatics has mapped alcohol outlets by municipality to examine outlet density, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation supported the creation of Community Maps which flag all alcohol-reacted crashes and a few municipalities have created individual map.

This challenging project will take 10-20 hours per week for at least one semester, potentially longer based on the final parameters of the project.

Public intoxication ordinances

Wisconsin repealed its public intoxication statute when its mental health laws were revised in the late 20th century. Disorderly conduct citations became the surrogate violation for public intoxication sending Wisconsin’s arrest rate for disorderly conduct to one of the highest rates in the nation. Municipalities are adopting a number of local ordinances to address the problems by intoxication including to personal vulnerability to harm and the risk of alcohol poisoning.

An interested individual would have the opportunity to examine the different ordinances, conduct interviews, review statistics and public documents to examine the impact of these ordinances and the difference (if any) in how the different approaches impact the community or cited individuals. Individuals must have transportation or qualify for UW-Madison fleet services, pass a background check and sign confidentiality agreements as needed.