Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of July 11, 2011)


With temperature go tempers


  By John Martin


For a while it seemed as though 2011 was going to skip summer altogether. But now that it's here it's worth reminding oneself that the likelihood of your being criminally victimized has just gone up.

Sadly, summer almost always sees a spike in criminal activity in these parts.

The very fact that schools are closed for a couple months is only part of the explanation for a bump in summertime crime.

People socialize outdoors more. They drink more and stay out later as the days are longer and the nights are warmer. You're likely to come into contact with more strangers in social settings during the summer than the rest of the year combined.

None of this makes conflict inevitable. But it certainly makes it more likely.

Similarly, people are away from home more than normal and residences are left unattended much more often than any other time of year. Thieves are generally territorial and become familiar with what vehicle belongs in what driveway and at what times and days. When this pattern of regularity is broken they're quick to notice, usually even before a next door neighbour.

We don't get a lot of summer weather in this part of the world and when it does come around, we get careless. Residents are more likely to leave a window open when they head out for a few hours. They'll rely on a screen door, something that would be unthinkable the rest of the year.

But the hazy, lazy days of summer provide more than opportunities for thieves.

Unfortunately, a few days of blistering heat doesn't sit well with everyone. Those of us not accustomed to high temperatures tend to get angry and aggressive much quicker in the hot weather. Road rage incidents are more frequent when it's hot and tempers flare more so than at any other time of year.

The American Automobile Association conducted an interesting experiment several years ago. On a sweltering hot summer day they had a driver at an intersection deliberately ignore the traffic light when it turned green. Researchers then took note of how other motorists responded. It turned out the people whose windows were rolled down honked quicker and more frequently than those whose windows were up (and most likely had air conditioning).

A fascinating finding regarding the temperature and temperament comes from a recent study published in Psychological Science. Researchers found that major league baseball pitchers whose teammates were beaned while at bat were more likely to retaliate depending on the temperature. Batters get hit all the time but it's rarely known if it was accidental or intentional.

The researchers determined that when the temperatures hit 90 degrees or higher, there was an increased assumption that it was deliberate and the pitcher would seek out revenge by beaning one of the opposing team's batters to even the score.

Given this, I wonder how violent hockey would be if the playoffs were scheduled over July and August?

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


Prime Time Crime

Contributing 2011