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December 17, 2018

Should Senator Cotton and any others fretting about crime after passage of the FIRST STEP Act focus a lot more attention on crime risks presented by climate change?

The question in the title of this post is my (slightly tongue-in-cheek) way of highlighting a recent research paper published in GeoHealth linking warmer winters to more violent crime.  This paper, which I saw thanks to this post at The Crime Report, is authored by Ryan D. Harp and Kristopher B. Karnauskas, and it is titled "The Influence of Interannual Climate Variability on Regional Violent Crime Rates in the United States."  Here is its abstract and plain language summary:


While the impact of climate on regional geopolitical stability and large‐scale conflict has garnered increased visibility in recent years, the effects of climate variability on interpersonal violent crime have received only limited scientific attention.  Though earlier studies have established a modest correlation between temperature and violent crime, the underlying seasonality in both variables was often not controlled for and spatial heterogeneity of the statistical relationships has largely been overlooked. Here a method of spatial aggregation is applied to the United States, enabling a systematic investigation into the observed relationships between large‐scale climate variability and regionally aggregated crime rates.  This novel approach allows for differentiation between the effects of two previously proposed mechanisms linking climate and violent crime, the Routine Activities Theory and Temperature‐Aggression Hypothesis.  Results indicate large and statistically significant positive correlations between the interannual variability of wintertime air temperature and both violent and property crime rates, with negligible correlations emerging from summertime data. Results strongly support the Routine Activities Theory linking climate and violent crime, with climate variability explaining well over a third of the variance of wintertime violent crime in several broad regions of the United States.  Finally, results motivate the development of observationally constrained empirical models and their potential application to seasonal and potentially longer‐term forecasts.

Plain Language Summary

Higher wintertime temperatures lead to higher crime rates across several broad regions of the United States.  We combined more than 30 years of climate and crime data from five U.S. regions with similar climate and found a very strong relationship between temperature and both violent and property crime, particularly in the winter.  That milder winters–when people are more apt to be out and about compared to harsh winters–see that higher levels of crime provides support to a theory that simply increasing the number of interactions between people is likely the primary driver of this climate‐crime connection.

December 17, 2018 at 05:17 PM | Permalink


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