8.05.2011

It’s hot outside so let’s go commit a crime.


By: Scott Hall
                Most of us have heard the terminology, “Hot Headed.”  To be “Hot-Headed” means to be easily angered or take offense to something (dictionary.reference.com) or basically to be somewhat impatient.  When the temperature goes up outside, we tend to go out and enjoy outdoor activities, but whether or not the weather makes us react more strongly toward someone or cause us to be “Hot-Headed” is subject to debate.  I decided that this “burning” question deserves attention and set out to quench my thirst for some truth.  According to a transcript of a radio program (npr.org, August 3, 2011) that posed that same question, some officers whom responded to the program say yes.  Some callers stated that crime did not increase because of the temperature itself, but that it is simply due to more people going outside.  What science has to say about humans and temperatures and what humans say about the science and perceptions of its influence may surprise you.


                During the initial discussion from the transcript of the online radio program, the lead off came from a reference to an article that mentions that yes, temperature and crime are somewhat associated and there is a cut-off point of temperatures where some assaults actually fell (wired.com) somewhere around 80-85 degrees.  This suggests that if it gets too hot, some crimes tend to trend downward as it seems some criminals just don’t like to play in the heat, go figure.  But what about areas like Florida or Texas or any of the coastal states where we see temperatures on weather reports hot enough to possibly cook an egg.  That depends on whom you ask, “There are other things that influence crime besides heat, such as mental illness and drug abuse.” Says Steve, deputy of Tulane County. Steve lives in an area where temperatures are hot most of the year and related to his own experience and stated that he does believe there may be some small correlation between temperature and likelihood of “punching someone in the nose”, but challenges that we should not hold temperature as such a high value in the cause of crime during good weather.

                A study conducted in 1987 and 1988 by Florida International University suggested that over a two year period of time, crimes against property went up with the temperature, while assaults fluctuated and began to drop off once temperatures began to soar (wired.com).  This may be somewhat relative to our human reactions of perceived threats from our own environments such as: weakness from lack of hydration or that whew where’s the shade feeling. Some refer to it as a feeling called, “Fight or Flight”.  Higher temperatures are also responsible for increasing testosterone levels; men don’t act crazier in hotter temperatures, do they?
                 When we are outside normally, and the temperatures are “just right”, we can stand for hours, or relax and sip on some miscellaneous beverage and not have too many physical worries, however, once we increase the temps things tend to aggravate us easier, which may increase the likelihood our tempers will flare and bad things will follow.  An example might be where one is working on their own vehicle and a bolt head strips or the repair is particularly challenging and we cuss the maker of that stupid item and why don’t they make a better tool than this!  That median temperature is around 85 degrees for the threshold, where our minds take over with the thoughts of “get out of the heat” or find something cold to drink subconsciously.  Some other scientists have even suggested that in the case where hot temperatures exist normally, the threshold may go even higher to 95 degrees (wired.com, Anderson model.)

                Taking a practical look at our yearly calendar, one can say that the more comfortable months for temperatures in most cases could be May and September, with the hottest portions being June, July and August.  In most communities, schools are not in session during a few of those months.  In turn this lets more juveniles out on the street, which may contribute some to the rise in juvenile associated offenses during the warmer months.  Poorer communities whom cannot afford Air Conditioning may also become more active in the number of people out during the day which would present more opportunities for people to become easily irritated and reactive simply because they do not have relief from the heats effects.

                  Our outdoor activities may also include celebrating or enjoying activities that have alcoholic beverages, which impact our body a bit more intensely as in hotter temperatures, our heart rates are elevated and our blood tends to run a bit thinner in order to help us handle the hotter environment.  In 1976, a study suggested (journal of personality and social psychology) that giving an angry person a cool drink could help to calm them down.  In order to further understand whether the weather affects crime rate, we need to cool off a bit and think October, November, December, January and (burr) February.
pic from worth1000

                An online article (November 2007) suggested that during the two coldest months of the year, January and February, crime went down (bismarcktribune.com).  In this article, Sgt. Offerman mentioned that he conducted a study in 1996 that showed crimes actually went down when the cold winds of winter invaded the environment, seems our criminals are also human in that when it’s cold by golly we hunker down inside and try to find some warmth.  Between 2005 and 2007 the Bismarck police department noted that during those same months as crime fell, when snow and foul weather set in, more accidents are reported.  Specifically noting a particular incident in 1981 where several accidents occurred within an 8 hour shift and 5 happening within an hour, once the temperatures dropped and road conditions changed.  Officer Offerman is not alone in his perspective of cold and crime, as was reported in an online news report (localnews8.com), in Idaho, the same may hold true, in cases of cold temperatures.   Captain Rick Capell from their police department stated that with cold weather, crime reports do slow and accident rates do rise, as well as car burglaries. Particularly criminals may be looking for those ever so important packages that suggest things of value.  We have all seen the hazardous accidents and wondered, “What were they thinking”?  Don’t we lock our vehicles doors when holiday shopping?

                Hot or Cold temperatures do seem to affect our reactions to people or situations and whether or not we may tend to be more reactive during these aggravating temperatures.  Officers and studies suggest that these may be correlative in our behavior but that when things go extreme some crimes fall away while other problematic things occur.  During the summertime property crimes may begin to increase while assaults may drop and in the winter time, domestic violence may drop off but automobile accidents rise and those rates may fluctuate even when temperatures are acceptable.  If a cool beverage during the summer will calm an angry person it would stand to reason a cup of hot chocolate may also bring about a smile when it’s cold.  Question:  In order to help control our crime, should we serve our public more hot and cold beverages, only the Zen master knows.

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