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October 24, 2013

Group questions true impact of Iowa City's bar ban

IOWA CITY — A policy research group is questioning the impact of an Iowa City ordinance that prohibits people under 21 from entering most bars after 10 p.m., arguing a decline in underage drinking and criminal charges is not necessarily related to the degree that supporters claim.

The nonpartisan Iowa Policy Research Organization analyzed intoxication charges and underage drinking citations in the city before and after the bar ban was enacted in 2010, the Iowa City Press-Citizen reported.

The Iowa City police data from January 2004 to September 2013 suggests the three-year-old ordinance has had a minimal effect on the steady trend of fewer alcohol-related crimes over a nearly 10-year period, showing alcohol-related crimes have been decreasing well before the law went into effect.

University of Iowa Associate Professor of Political Science Rene Rocha, a faculty supervisor for IPRO, said “the ordinance appears to be a function of just trends that precede the adoption of the 21 ordinance rather than an effect of the 21 ordinance itself.”

Two weeks ago, Iowa City police released data that indicated the ban has reduced crime since it went into effect. The department said there were at least 1,300 fewer calls for alcohol-related crimes between 2010 and 2013 compared to three years prior to the ban.

Kelly Bender, who directs the UI-Iowa City Partnership for Alcohol Safety, said the 21-only ordinance has been a factor in the decrease of alcohol-related crimes, but so have initiatives such as alcohol-free entertainment options for students.

“The ordinance is certainly an important piece of this, but there is a lot else that’s going on in the community and on campus that is working together that can make that ordinance stronger, and that ordinance can make other things stronger as well,” she said.

The IPRO report notes that disorderly house charges are up about 10 citations a month since the ordinance passed. Bender said those numbers have been dropping. Alcohol-related arrests on the pedestrian mall between January 2009 and December 2011 jumped by 81 percent, according to the report.

The report also shows underage people charged with drunken driving have decreased by more than six percent since the ordinance passed.

Iowa City voters will decide Nov. 5 whether to retain or repeal the ordinance.

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