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Crime and warm weather: What's the link?

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Wednesday, July 25, 2018, 11:48 AM - In February 2015 New York City made headlines when 12 days passed without a murder, marking the longest homicide-free stretch since police started tracking murders in 1994.

At the time a police source speculated to the New York Times the streak could be attributed, at least in part, to the cold weather.

It's a simplistic explanation for a complex issue, but at first glace it makes sense: Cold weather does, after all, tend to keep people indoors while warm weather lures people outside, creating the opportunity for misdemeanors. 

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

(RELATED: Air pollution increases crime in cities. Here's how)

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.

Warm weather is dominating headlines again this year, along with violent and disturbing news.

In April, ten people were killed and fifteen injured in north Toronto when a rental van mowed down pedestrians. On Sunday, a gunman opened fire on pedestrians and businesses in a busy section of the city's Danforth neighbourhood.

Data suggests gun violence is on the rise in Toronto, especially in the downtown core. Between January 1 and May 31, gun-related crimes increased 167 per cent compared to the same timethe previous year.

This can be attributed to a number of factors, including a rise in gang activity and access to illegal handguns. There are also complex social and societal factors at play that can't be attributed to climate and the weather.


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.

Instead, 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, adding that while there is a "correlation", 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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