By Joel E. Gordon
“The moon does not fight. It attacks no one. It does not worry. It does not try to crush others. It keeps to its course, but by its very nature, it gently influences. What other body could pull an entire ocean from shore to shore? The moon is faithful to its nature and its power is never diminished.” ~Deng Ming-Dao
There has always been a perception among cops, firefighters and emergency room personnel that there’s more and often stranger crime that occurs on the night of a full moon. Many in the police community have linked specific moons to a rise in aggressive behavior. This belief is so strong that the International Association of Chiefs of Police spent money to commission a study in the late 1970s to find out if there is any scientific evidence to support this belief. They found nothing definitive. If you check with the Department of Justice, you’ll find a half-dozen or so more studies that also point to no precise scientific explanation.
However, based upon my own non-scientific observations as a police officer, I found that assertions that citizens fight each other on the nights of a full moon and fight the police with greater frequency on nights of a new moon are beliefs with merit. I also found that when the new or full moon fell particularly on any given Friday that this phenomena appeared to be fueled even further.
While anecdotal evidence points to a connection between the moon and aggression, studies on the topic have often fallen short of being conclusive. When looking into the potential of various aspects of the moon phases and how they affect our bodies and minds, the jury is still out among the scientific community on how or even whether a full moon really makes a difference.
Miami psychiatrist Arnold Leiber, in his book The Lunar Effect (1978), proposed that the moon was linked to human behavior by adversely affecting mental and emotional abilities by raising physiologically disruptive “biological tides” in the body akin to the tides it raises in the earth’s ocean. Other studies have concluded that any increased percentage of aggressive behaviors, crimes and suicides on full moon days may, in fact, be due to “human tidal waves” caused by the gravitational pull of the moon. In some circles, these theories have become a somewhat commonly accepted reasoning on how the mind and body may be physiologically affected by lunar phases.
The question then remains; does a full moon contribute to an increase in crime?
The University of Washington did a study all the way back in 1978 concluding that out of 11,613 cases of aggravated assault in a 5-year period, assaults occurred more often around the full moon, and 34,318 crimes in a yearlong period also showed that crimes occurred more frequently during the full moon. Falling short of conclusive evidence of the moon’s influence, this simply added some data for consideration.
If it’s possible that the lunar cycle affects some people’s behavior, this fact then has implications for the court system. The “full moon” has even been a defense in criminal cases. According to Psychology Today, in 19th century England, lawyers used the defense of “guilty by reason of the full moon” to make claim that their “lunatic” clients were not accountable for their actions under the moon’s influence, thereby creating what became known as the “Lunar Defense.”
Cops continue to point to the lunar effect to explain moonlight madness, speculating further that perhaps the moon’s gravitational influence can bring about changes in people who may already suffer from some form of a mental imbalance.
A study done by the University of New Orleans confirmed that cops were among the strongest believers that more crime and trauma occurred on nights when the moon was full. Some suspect the phenomenon is a self-fulfilling prophecy, reasoning that law enforcement officers are by nature adrenaline junkies and that the full moon gives officers a reason to investigate things they might usually ignore, thereby explaining any increase in activity. In other words, officers are looking for the evidence that confirms their belief.
So, if you want to determine the relationship between lunar phases, aggression and crime, you’ll just have to look to the high volumes of anecdotal evidence from policemen, firefighters, other first responders and hospital doctors and nurses from around the world while adding your own experiences to the stories to be told.
Joel E. Gordon is a former Baltimore City Police Officer and was Chief of Police for the city of Kingwood, West Virginia. He has served as vice-chair of a regional narcotics task force and is a candidate for Preston County West Virginia Sheriff. An award winning journalist, he is author of the book Still Seeking Justice: One Officer's Story and founded the Facebook group Police Authors Seeking Justice. stillseekingjustice.com