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Crime and the weather: What's the link?

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Thursday, March 19, 2015, 3:08 PM - In February New York City made headlines when officials announced the city had gone 12 days without a reported murder -- the longest stretch since it began keeping homicide records in 1994.

One police source told the New York Post the streak can be attributed to the weather -- and that could be the case.

After all, cold weather tends to keep people indoors while warm weather can send the community outdoors in droves.

Take the summer of 2012, for example, where a series of high-profile crimes took place in Canada and the U.S.

A shooting at Toronto Eaton Centre in June left one dead and seven injured. Then in July, a shooting on Toronto's Danzig street left two dead and 23 injured.

In the U.S. the news was equally grim.

Gun crime seemed to dominate the airwaves that summer, from the tragic Colorado theatre shooting that left twelve dead to a heart-wrenching attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, temperatures spiked across the continent.

At the time 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.

RELATED: February was too cold for crime in the U.S.

So what's the correlation?

While some data suggests a link 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," Dr. Ramani Durvasula, professor of psychology at California State University told The Weather Network in 2012.

"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 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.

In 2014, Toronto saw crime decline by 2 percent and the total number of shootings dropped by 18 percent. Officials attribute that to a number of non weather-related factors -- like better policing initiatives and community involvement.

Source: The Toronto Star | CP24

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