Alcohol and Crime – The Coronavirus Anomaly

Positive Correlation

It seems to be common sense that alcohol and crime have a positive correlation. With increased alcohol consumption comes increased crime.  This is all but a universal truth.  Both science and medicine teach us that alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and consequently, when consumed in greater quantities our inhibitions and control over impulsive behavior are lowered.  Thus, with increased alcohol consumption comes decreased impulse control and a corresponding increase in criminal behavior.

The documentation of the connection between alcohol and crime is as old as the written history of mankind.  The first book of the Bible, Genesis, provides vivid descriptions of the positive correlation between increased alcohol consumption and unacceptable social behavior.  Noah, a central Old-Testament figure, stripped himself naked in a state of wine-fueled intoxication following survival of the Great Flood.  (Genesis 9:20-24).  Genesis later goes on to describe how the first biblically documented sex crime was committed.   The victim was Lot following the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  The alleged perpetrators were Lot’s very own daughters who conspired to get him drunk to a point of incapacitation so that they could, “lay with him” to ensure the continuation of the family lineage.  (Genesis 19: 30-38).  Nowadays we call that sexual abuse in the 3rd degree with a side of Incest.

Certainly, the well-documented positive correlation between alcohol consumption and crime has lead to social movements to limit, and at times, eliminate legal alcohol consumption.  Case in point – Prohibition.  In more recent times, even the World Health Organization has sought to reduce crime by advocating for the limitation of alcohol consumption.   That is right.  The World Health Organization, the group at the center of the world-wide Coronavirus pandemic, has previously weighed in on alcohol’s correlation with crime.  In a published article titled,  Preventing Violence by Reducing the Availability of the Harmful Use of Alcohol, the WHO recommend reducing the availability of alcohol to further efforts to reduce violent crime.

Understanding that increased alcohol consumption increases crime, GRL Law was attentive to the recent precautions taken throughout our state and country to reduce the spread and impact of the Coronavirus pandemic.  With bars and restaurants shut down, travel reduced significantly, social distancing efforts and elimination of group events, sporting events and concerts, GRL Law prepared for business to slow down considerably as the economy ground to a halt.

It seemed obvious to us that these necessary efforts to “flatten the curve” would result in a drastic reduction of alcohol consumption as well.  After all, we all enjoy taking an afternoon to watch the NCAA basketball and wrestling tournaments while enjoying refreshing, tasty adult beverages.  The tournaments were canceled.  We partake in our share of St. Paddy’s Day celebrations and has frequented Peggy’s Tavern during the Drake Relays a time or two – both, canceled.  March is a busy month for alcohol consumption across the entire country.  Cancellation of just the mass-events alone would most definitely reduce the amount of alcohol sales throughout the entire state.  Since a reduction of alcohol consumption should correspondingly decrease crimes, GRL Law expected the universal truth to play itself out.

The expected impact on the first part of the equation – reduction in alcohol sales, did not turn out to be correct.  According to a recent report by KCCI news, the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division reported alcohol sales were actually UP 18% throughout the entire state in the month of March.  Curious, we did a little extra research of our own.   We jumped on the Iowa governmental data website,, and saw the raw data for ourselves.  The Coronavirus pandemic actually cause the statewide sale of alcohol to take off!!

2020 Iowa Liquor Sales

From February to March, the state of Iowa experienced an over 5 million dollar increase in liquor sales alone!  These numbers did not include beer and wine.  Just liquor.  One would reasonably ask, what were the total liquor sales for March of 2019?!  Great question.  The answer is a measly $24,982,728.36 in liquor sales in March of 2019.  That means, do the math, March of 2020 saw an increase of $6,228,004.75 in liquor sales than 2019.

So what about crime?  If alcohol sales and presumably, consumption, were up by millions of dollars, shouldn’t crime be on the rise as well?  GRL Law’s incoming calls for legal assistance in the criminal defense and drunk driving defense arenas slowed considerably beginning in the middle of March.  If people were drinking more than ever, why were the GRL Law criminal and drunk driving defense divisions not being inundated with calls from individuals needing our help?  Were our phones disconnected?  Was the website down?  Were our marketing efforts sub-par?  Were we oblivious to reality?

We struck out to find answers to this confounding conundrum.  After all, the phones were quiet and we were cooped up in our houses with all extracurricular activities canceled for the foreseeable future.  We had some extra time on our hands.  In doing our research we received some awesome assistance from our friends at the Justice Data Warehouse.  The Justice Data Warehouse is a crucial services provided by the Iowa Department of Human Rights that compiles statistics related to criminal charges filed throughout the state of Iowa.  They were kind enough to share some of their recent research with us.  Surprisingly, their data revealed that while alcohol sales may be through the roof, reported crime is down.  Considerably!

Coronavirus Impact on Iowa Criminal Prosecutions

As can be seen from the chart criminal complaint filings dropped from 6,896 for the two-week period of March 3rd through March 16th, to only 4,197 during the two week period of March 17 through March 30th.  Traffic citations also fell considerably during those same time frames, down from 15,630 to 6,587.  Operating While Intoxicates offenses, GRL Law’s specialty, dropped from 1,585 to 402!  What shocked us, understanding the increased alcohol consumption and time spent at home with spouses and significant others, even Domestic Assault filings decreased from 302 to 198.  We are calling this the Coronavirus Anomaly.

The cause or causes of this anomaly could be a result of a number of factors.  Obviously travel has considerably decreased so opportunities for law enforcement to have contact with motorists for traffic related offenses have also decreased.  Bars and restaurants are closed so the temptation to drive home after having one too many no longer exists.  Drinking to a point of intoxication occurs at home with nowhere else to go.  With social interaction being significantly reduced, people are not around each other as much so the opportunity for failures of impulse control during social interactions are also minimized.

One theory that is concerning is that crimes are still occurring but are not being identified or reported due to the reduction in social interaction.  Take for example, sexual assaults, domestic abuse and child abuse.  A significant portion of those offenses are reported not by the actual victim but by friends, family members or mandatory reporters that have contact with the victims outside of their home environment.  KCCI new recently published a story reporting that child abuse calls are down 60% in Central Iowa.  Schools are closed.  For some children, school is their safe haven.  Without teachers and school staff identifying and intervening in abusive home lives, these reports are simply not being made.  This is undoubtedly a significant concern.

The truth likely exists in a combination of all of these factors.  What remains to be seen is how these statistics will trend as the weeks drag on.  GRL Law will be following these statistics closely so feel free to check back in.  In the meantime GRL Law is open, active and standing by to help in any way we can.  Cheers and stay healthy Iowa!