WASHINGTON — Forecasters are predicting a potentially bitter cold winter thanks to El Niño, but that might be a good thing. A new study finds that milder winter weather in recent years is actually associated with a spike in crime rates.
Researchers from the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder say their study’s findings align with a theory that asserts there are three major ingredients of a crime: a suitable target, an offender motivated to commit the crime, and the absence of a guardian to prevent the violation of a law. In summer, these conditions are more frequent, causing crime rates to increase.
For the study, the authors compared crime rates from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program and and climate data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The statistics were pulled from 16,000 cities throughout the U.S. between 1979 to 2016.
The results showed that during warmer winters, crime rates rose in comparison to normal or colder winters. Interestingly, warmer temperatures in the summer did not increase the crime rate compared to normal summer temperatures.
“We were expecting to find a more consistent relationship between temperature and crime, but we weren’t really expecting that relationship to be changing over the course of the year,” explains lead author Ryan Harp in a statement. “That ended up being a pretty big revelation for us.”
The link was particularly strong in regions with harsher winters, including the Midwest and Northeast. Previous research has shown that violent crime rates rise 16 percent and disorderly conduct cases jump 23 percent between October and April if the heat index reaches 70 degrees.
“Ultimately, it’s a health impact,” concludes Harp. “The relationship between climate, human interaction, and crime that we’ve unveiled is something that will have an impact on people’s wellbeing.”
The study was published November 13, 2018 in GeoHealth, a journal of the American Geophysical Union