Crime likely to increase in winter as climate change raises temperatures, CU Boulder study finds

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder have established scientific backing for long-held accepted wisdom that rising temperatures can lead to trouble in the streets.

Scrutiny of monthly violent and property crime data from the FBI reported by 16,000 law enforcement agencies across the U.S. cemented the case for a seemingly simple concept: When the weather is more mild, people have more chance to get out and interact — and to cause trouble. That dynamic has been dubbed the Routine Activities Theory.

A second, partner theory is the Temperature-Aggression Hypothesis, which holds that people act more aggressively in extreme heat.

Of the two, researchers found the correlation cited in the Routine Activities Theory appears stronger, suggesting that more pleasant days in the wintertime, which can be expected with the continuing onset of climate change, may be a problem for law enforcement — along with all the environmental effects that are already a focus of concern for people tracking the changes in our planet’s climate dynamics.

“You need a motivated offender, someone looking to commit the crime and you need a potential victim, and the lack of guardian — someone to prevent the crime; a police officer is the easiest example,” said Ryan Harp, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Boulder, who is also affiliated with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.

“What we think is going on is that in the winter months people are prone to stay inside and avoid the harsh weather. But if you have milder weather, people are more prone to leave their homes, and you have a greater chance of those three things coming together… You are just increasing the chance that those three things can converge.”