Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Maple Ridge Times week of May 17, 2010)

Crime trends change with the weather

  By John Martin


In many instances crime is a random and unforeseen event. It is often spontaneous and completely unpredictable. A domestic argument gets out of hand and someone gets hurt. A dispute outside a bar turns ugly and someone pulls out a knife. A person is walking down the street and sees an unlocked car with a laptop sitting on the seat.

But by collecting incidents of criminal behaviour and looking for trends and commonalities, we often start to observe specific patterns that should alert us to what may lay around the corner. Sometimes we see certain types of crime become more common during shifts in the economy. Crime rates may spike in a particular jurisdiction on account of increased drinking and partying associated with an event such as the home team making a run for the Stanley Cup (fortunately there's no such threat of that in this part of the country).

But one of the best indicators that selected types of crime are soon to rise simply comes down to the time of year. And unfortunately, it's just about upon us. Summertime brings one of the most dependable assurances that criminal activity is about to jump.

The days are longer and the nights are warmer. People drink and socialize more. They spend more time outdoors and there are more events and activities that bring strangers together, adding to the potential for conflict. Families load up the trailer and take off for holidays and camping trips, leaving their homes unattended and generally unwatched.

Mountain bikes and other recreation equipment that have been under lock and key for the past six months are now laying about in plain view.

All this is compounded by the school calendar. All of a sudden the crime-prone segment of youth have an additional seven hours a day to cause trouble. Even kids who have curfews are generally given the go ahead to stay out later once school is out.

Interviews with chronic, drug-addicted offenders shed further light on summertime activities. One addict reported he kept a notebook of every address in the neighbourhood with a camper or trailer in the driveway and burglarized the residence as soon as it was gone. Another noted that garages and tool sheds are much less likely to be locked during summer.

Certainly the summer season creates a multitude of opportunities to commit crimes not so easily engaged in during other times of the year. But there's more than just opportunity at play here. Warm weather tends to make us anxious, irritable and short-tempered. Watch what happens to people deprived of air conditioning on a hot day. Or take note of motorists' behaviour when they're stuck idling in the heat for 20 minutes on account of a road-paving crew.

One major study of riots in the U.S. indicated riots and violent protests are most likely when the temperature is between 27C and 32C. But as soon as the mercury exceeds 32C people are too hot to bother.

The next time you want to know what's happening with crime in the city, your best bet may very well be to flip over to the weather channel.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at


Prime Time Crime

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