Investigating the Connection Between Hot Weather and Crime

Summer is almost here, which means long, hot days, ice cream, pool parties, and… more crime? Conventional wisdom has long held that hot, muggy weather makes people more likely to lash out, leading to an increase in violent behavior and arrests.  Recently, scientists and journalists have attempted to see whether there is any truth behind this urban legend, with mixed results.

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Wired.com investigated the issue last summer and found that crime rates do increase in warmer months. What is unclear is whether hot temperatures incite people to commit crimes, or if the number of warm-weather social events and activities simply create more opportunity for crime.

Sgt. Brandon Post of Utah’s Provo Police Department says his agency definitely sees an increase in crime during the summer months, but doubts that the hot weather is stirring people’s tempers. Instead, he attributes it to the fact that more people are out and about, increasing the potential for altercations. Daytime crime rates in the college town stay fairly steady throughout the year, he said, but the number of crimes committed at night increases in the summer.

“At 3 a.m. in January it’s freezing, but during the summer, the weather is warm and a lot more people are likely to be out at night,” Post said. “People are going to parties and they’re going to bars, and that definitely keeps us busier.”

The increase in crime is noticeable, Post said, especially for officers working the graveyard shift, but he added that it is not drastic enough to require the Provo Police Department to increases its staff or take other steps to prepare for it.

Researchers are also debating if crime actually decreases once temperatures get oppressively hot. A 1997 Florida State University study highlighted by Wired.com concluded that around 80 degrees, people start retreating inside their air-conditioned homes, with violence dropping as a result. A 2005 Iowa State study disagrees, concluding that the higher the temperature, the more assaults. In the study, author Craig A. Anderson examined assault statistics from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m., the time when most adults are out of work or school. During this time period, Anderson claims, assaults continued to increase as the mercury climbs.

No matter how hot the weather gets this summer, remember to keep your cool. If someone cuts you off in traffic on a blistering hot day or swipes your spot at the Fourth of July parade, think before you lash out at them. If you are a public safety official, you may want to count on working some overtime. A study by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory shows that extreme summer temperatures are becoming more common in the United States – which could mean more blistering days than ever on the horizon.