There are strong correlations between rising temperatures and crime rates. To keep the public safe, leaders need not only to be aware of this relationship, but also to engage peers and the public in developing solutions to the impending resource gaps.
Warmer weather increases the opportunity for crime
Crime Opportunity Theory suggests that offenders are most likely to strike when a situation offers high reward for minimal effort. Rising temperature have the potential to skew this cost-benefit analysis for property crimes as more personal possessions—patio furniture, grills, bicycles—are left outside the home.
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The hot summer months also correspond with school breaks, when youth have free time. And as noted by Laura Brinkman, a former associate director at the University of Chicago Crime Lab, “juveniles are the most likely to commit crime.”
Even more alarming is that higher temperatures are also consistently associated with an increase in violent behavior. In a study examining the behaviors of Chicago residents, researchers found a surge in violent crime on summer days when people share public spaces most. This increased social interaction—whether or not coupled with the seasonal increase in alcohol consumption—means that tensions among community members may escalate more easily.
Accordingly, the South has a 20% higher annual average temperature and a 41% higher violent crime rate than other regions of the United States. Particularly disconcerting for those in cooler climates, however, is that the higher crime rates are linked with relative, not absolute, temperatures. Thus, when temperatures rise one standard deviation above local norms, intergroup conflicts increase by 14%.
Anticipate weather-related changes to policing
Experts predict that these climate changes are unlikely to reverse course any time soon. The frequency of cold days, cold nights, and frosts are in decline, while the incidence of extreme weather events is on the rise. In 2014, the annual global temperature was above average for the 38th consecutive year.
Studying data from the last thirty years, economist Matthew Ranson leveraged the connection between temperature and crime to project future impact on police departments due to rising average temperatures around the globe. Ranson calculated that by 2099, law enforcement agencies would face an additional 22,000 murders, 1.2 million aggravated assaults, 2.3 million simple assaults, 180,000 rapes, 2.2 million cases of larceny, 1.3 million burglaries and 280,000 vehicle thefts—all attributed to climate change. The costs of fighting these additional crimes would range anywhere from $38 billion to $115 billion.
Changes in climate—such as weather volatility, rising temperatures, and natural disasters—may influence how people act. Questionable behavior by citizens impacts the workload of emergency responders. Understanding past crime-temperature relationships—and tracking how each community is adapting to new weather patterns—will inform future law enforcement strategy. This knowledge may not help officers prevent crime altogether, but it will place them in a better position to anticipate future emergencies.
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