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Do crime rates drop in the fall?


Some experts say there is a correlation between hot weather and crime
Some experts say there is a correlation between hot weather and crime

Cheryl Santa Maria, staff writer

October 13, 2012 — Things seem to have quieted down following a series of high profile gun crimes in Canada and the US. Could cooler temperatures be the reason?

Canada and the US saw scorching temperatures this past summer
Canada and the US saw scorching temperatures this past summer

As the summer blazed on, so did the headlines.

"Toronto Eaton Centre shooting kills 1, injures 7," the CBC proclaimed in June.

"Danzig St. shooting taints quiet neighbourhood," the Toronto Star announced a few weeks later.

In the US, the news was equally grim.

A series of high-profile crimes dominated the airwaves. From the tragic Colorado theatre shooting to the heart-wrenching attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, crime reports seemed to be piling up on both sides of the border.

Meanwhile, temperatures spiked across the continent.

July, 2012 was the hottest month in the history of the United States. The country also set records for extreme climate events, as above-average drought, rain and temperatures seized a large part of the region.

In Canada, massive wildfires plagued northeastern Ontario as record heat invaded nearly every province.

With the start of a new season, temperatures have cooled -- and news about high-profile crime appears to be less frequent.

A large part of the US experienced higher-than-usual drought this year
A large part of the US experienced higher-than-usual drought this year

While some data suggests a correlation between warm weather and crime, experts are quick to point out that hot temperatures aren't a trigger for illegal activity.

Rather, it presents opportunities for crimes to take place.

"Heat may lead more people to leave their homes and congregate outside -- and by being in greater proximity to others there may be more opportunities for violent crime to take place," says Dr. Ramani Durvasula, professor of psychology at California State University.

"In hot weather people may be more likely to hydrate - ideally with water, but that may also result in more alcohol consumption." 

Studies have shown that heat stress can impair judgement and open the door to crimes of opportunity, like spur-of-the-moment robberies.

"When we are hot and there is no way to alleviate that discomfort, there may be strong feelings of frustration," Dr. Durvasula says, adding that "can result in aggressive or violent behaviour."

But summer can trigger other behavioural patterns as well -- like a spike in ice cream sales, says Aaron Friedman, a recent graduate of the criminal justice program at George Washington University.

He says that while there is a "correlation" between the two, warm weather does not cause crime.

"During the winter, when it is cold and dark, fewer people venture out -- and the opportunity to commit crime falls," he says.

Whatever the connection, those affected by the summer's heat - and seemingly endless drought - may be happy to see an end to the summer of 2012 -- and a return to more seasonal weather patterns.

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