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Heat & Crime: Does Temperature Affect Crime Rates?

What Happens When Things Get Heated

The official start of summer is June 20th, and with California’s notoriously warm and dry summers, it is a perfect time to discuss crime rates. A common belief is that crime rates increase in warmer weather, and multiple studies support this perception. So, why does crime increase as temperatures increase?

Experts speculate that when the weather is warmer, everybody goes outside to soak up the sun. People tend to drink alcohol and socialize, paving the way for DUI, assaults, theft, weapons crimes, and other offenses. From a physiological standpoint, heat is assumed to make people more prone to violence.

As temperatures get warmer, people tend to get hot-headed easier. Heat is considered an irritant because it causes discomfort, which could result in less sleep, health problems, stress, and aggression. Studies show that one standard deviation of temperature increase leads to a 4% increase in interpersonal violence and a 14% increase in group violence, which implies an increase in domestic violence.

With that being said, let’s take a look at the numbers. Countries around the world have experienced an increase in crime due to warmer temperatures, particularly violent crime, as you can see from statistics provided by the BBC below:

  • In the UK, between April 2010 and 2018, there was 14% more violent crime at 20C than there was at 10C
  • In Mexico, there is more organized crime in warmer weather – and some academics suspect this is because it creates a “taste for violence”
  • In South Africa, scientists have discovered that, for every degree that the temperature goes up, there is a 1.5% increase in the number of murders.
  • In Greece, one study found that more than 30% of 137 homicides reported in a particular region occurred on days with an average temperature of more than 25C.
  • In one study, scientists tracked uprisings around the world from 1791 to 1880 – and found that the overwhelming majority occurred in the summer months. For example, in Europe, they were most likely to happen in July – while in South America they were more likely to happen in January.
  • More recent studies have confirmed the link between social movements and the weather. An analysis of more than 7,000 events over 36 years found that they tended to happen on more clement days, and as the temperature went up, they were more likely to get violent.

To demonstrate the notion that violent crime and disorderly conduct increase in warmer weather, a Drexel University study used a decade’s worth of crime data in Philadelphia (2006 to 2015). The study revealed that overall, crimes rates were highest in the warmest months of the year and highest on the hottest days. Let’s take a closer look:

  • When the heat index was 98 degrees, violent crime rates were 9% higher compared to days when the temperature was 57 degrees
  • Disorderly conduct rates were 7% higher on 98-degree days than on 57-degree days
  • From October through April — the year’s colder months — daily violent crime rates were 16% higher and disorderly conduct rates were 23% higher when temperatures reached 70 degrees, compared to 43-degree days, the median heat index for that period
  • During cool months, days that were 55 degrees higher than the seasonal average were associated with 7% higher rates of disorderly conduct

These findings are alarming yet important to keep in mind as you gear up for the summertime. Although there could be many reasons as to why crime increases in warmer temperatures, you should be mindful of the consequences of participating in criminal activity. When you feel your blood boiling, consider the following tips to stay cool and, ultimately, reduce your risk of getting into legal trouble:

  • Find air conditioning
  • Avoid strenuous activities
  • Wear light clothing
  • Check on family members and neighbors
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Watch for heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke
  • Cover your windows with drapes or shades
  • Weather-strip doors and windows of your home
  • Use window reflectors in your home such as aluminum foil-covered cardboard to reflect heat back outside
  • Add insulation in your home to keep the heat out
  • Install window air conditioners and insulate around them

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