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Report finds 21-ordinance isn't effective

BY JULIA DAVIS | OCTOBER 23, 2013 5:00 AM

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A University of Iowa organization has discovered the 21-ordinance has not been as effective as previously believed, which comes just two weeks before Iowa City residents will vote on if they want to continue the current policy.

Previously, the Iowa Policy Research Organization had compiled and analyzed data that suggested the 21-ordinance had a large effect on drinking behavior and criminal charges.  

The Nov. 5 election will determine whether the 21-ordinance will continue. The ordinance does not allow people under age 21 to be in the bars after 10 p.m.

Those in favor of maintaining the ordinance say the downtown culture has become safer since its implementation in 2010; those favoring a repeal of the policy feel it creates an inequality among age groups when 18-year-olds are old enough to be considered adults.

The latest study, sponsored by the Political Science Department and the Honors Program, looked at trends from 2004 through 2012 with regards to alcohol-related criminal activity in Iowa City.

The new findings come after the city released its own findings on Oct. 9. Its report indicated that alcohol-related calls to emergency responders decreased following implementation of the 21-ordinance.

Iowa City city councilors were unable to be reached for comment, or declined to comment on the report — with some saying they wanted to read the report before commenting.

A central finding in the new study shows that while PAULA citations have gone down since the 21-ordinance went into effect in 2010, this decrease is part of a long-term trend, which has been occurring since 2004 and may not be a result of the ordinance.

“The number of PAULAs has been decreasing over time, and the fact that they are lower after the 21-ordinance was bound to happen regardless of its being put into place,” said sophomore student researcher Ashley Wiginton.

Sophomore student researcher Collin Cook said he believes that because of the release of the figures in the study, voters will be able to see a more accurate picture of how the ordinance has affected Iowa City for the first time.

“The way these data have been analyzed by other organizations has been methodologically flawed, because they fail to look at the effect of these long-term trends before the 21-ordinance,” he said. “This report takes into account these long-term trends, and I believe it is a more accurate representation of what the 21-ordinance has really done to the amount of criminal drinking charges in Iowa City.”

The study also found after the 21-ordinance was put into place, there were an average of 10 more disorderly-house citations per month.

UI political science Associate Professor Rene Rocha, who advised the study, said this finding seems to back up the belief students who are banned from drinking in bars will simply find other places, such as private residences, to drink in after 10 p.m.

“The increase in the number of disorderly house citations does lend some credibility to the idea that the 21-ordinance redistributes activity away from the Ped Mall area and into surrounding neighborhoods,” he said.

Wiginton said she believes if the city offered an alternate course of action regarding the ordinance, it would have more success in combating the dispersal of alcohol activity.

“Voters should seek a policy alternative that will actually give minors [sic] more options other than going to the bars, not just push the underage drinkers to drink elsewhere,” she said.

According to the study, one positive trend the 21-ordinance is believed to be responsible for is a 6 percent decrease in OWI citations given to people under the age of 21.

Rocha said the report will have an interesting effect on the upcoming Iowa City election — in which the ordinance will be put up to a vote by the citizens of Iowa City.

“I think there’s some evidence in this report that supporters and opponents of the 21- ordinance could use to bolster their positions, and that makes for an fascinating dynamic,” he said.

Senior student researcher Molly Hammer said she believes the city needs to rethink the effect the 21-ordinance was expected to have based on their findings.

“I think it’s important for voters to look at the hard numbers and the data, take a step back and say, ‘Maybe the 21-ordinance hasn’t had the effect that the City Council intended it to, and repealing it might by the right option since it clearly hasn’t had the outcomes that they were hoping for.’ ”


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