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Over the Limit: Major movies may reduce violent crime in Pa.

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Rogue One

In this image released by Disney, Felicity Jones portrays Jyn Erso in a scene from, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”

Associated Press

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” tells the tale of a misfit band of rebels bent on destroying the evil galactic empire, and while the movie is a fight between good and evil a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, it may have caused fewer people to fight closer to home.

An analysis of court records conducted by The Sentinel found violent crimes in Pennsylvania dropped the weekend several major motion pictures were released. The most pronounced drop came the weekend the “Star Wars” standalone film hit the big screen.

Assaults committed by people between the ages of 18 and 35 dropped by more than 35 percent the weekend “Rogue One” was released compared to the weekend prior, according to the analysis.

The Sentinel reviewed more than 200,000 criminal cases filed in the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania in 2016 and sorted cases of assault by the listed offense date.

More than 180 people in that age group were charged with an assault occurring the weekend before “Rogue One” premiered, according to court records. Sixty fewer assaults were tallied during the Friday, Saturday and Sunday on the movie’s release, the analysis found.

This was nearly the lowest number of charged assaults for any weekend in the state in 2016 and well below the median for the year of 199 cases, according to court records.

The possible effect the movie’s release had on violent offenses appears to go beyond just the sheer drop in crimes.

There is a typical flow to assaults as the week progresses, according to court records. In 2016, the three days before the weekend and the three days after typically tallied about 20 to 30 percent fewer assaults than the weekend, The Sentinel’s analysis found.

This creates a relatively even curve with a rise and fall in assaults into and out of the weekend.

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Simple assault & Box Office

This chart tracks the rise and fall in simple assaults in Pennsylvania from the three days before the weekend, during the weekend and the three days after the week a major motion picture was released and the week preceding it.

Assaults are typically 20 to 30 percent higher during the weekend than the during the three days before or three days after, according to court records.

All data is aggregated from criminal dockets in the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania.

That curve was heavily flattened the weekend “Rogue One” was released, with incidents rising slightly going into the weekend and remaining almost flat coming out of the weekend.

Other movies like “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” also saw a significant drop in assaults among 18- to 35-year-olds, as well as a flattening effect, according to The Sentinel’s analysis.

A more nuanced review of the impact of movies on violent crimes was published in 2008 by researchers from the University of California.

The authors, Gordon Dahl and Stefano DellaVigna, found between 1995 and 2004 violent crimes dropped as more people attended violent movies. They found nearly 1,000 violent crimes were deterred on an average weekend when a violent movie was widely viewed.

Dahl and DellaVigna proposed this deterrence was caused in part because people who would normally go out and drink alcohol chose instead to go see the movie.

As they note, alcohol and specifically heavy drinking or “binge drinking” plays a major role in the commission of many violent crimes.

Since alcohol is generally not served at movie theaters, alcohol consumption is reduced. With reduced alcohol consumption comes fewer violent crimes, the authors posited.

To be clear, it is unlikely that an influx of “Star Wars” franchise movies would be an effective, lasting crime prevention policy.

Assaults in Pennsylvania generally rebounded within a few weeks if not the subsequent week of the release of a major motion picture, and Dahl and DellaVigna found no lasting effects after three weeks a movie’s release.

Other movies that brought in a lot of money at the box office, like “Suicide Squad” and “Captain America: Civil War” saw little to no change in assaults. Others like the Denzel Washington film, “Magnificent Seven,” saw a significant drop in assaults but a much less pronounced flattening effect.

Email Joshua Vaughn at jvaughn@cumberlink.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Sentinel_Vaughn.

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Cops & Courts Reporter

Crime & Courts Reporter at The Sentinel.

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