Heat wave equals crime wave?

May 26, 2018 GMT

As New Mexico’s weather gets warmer and warmer, the year also gets busier and busier for police.

“There is always an increase in activity in the summer months,” said Juan Ríos, spokesman for the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office. “People are out and about as opposed to winter where people are [inside] and holed up.”

For decades, researchers — and police — across the country have found again and again that crime tends to go up in the heat. Lt. Marvin Paulk, an 18-year veteran of the Santa Fe Police Department, says there is “no doubt” crime goes up in the summer.

“The question is why?” Paulk said.


One theory, called the “heat hypothesis,” argues that violent crimes go up in the heat because people become more aggressive in warmer weather. Other researchers argue that higher temperatures aren’t necessarily the cause of more crime. But when it’s warm, they contend, people interact more often, and crimes stem from that contact.

Craig Anderson, a psychology professor at Iowa State University and a champion of the heat hypothesis, says weather itself causes a spike in violent crime.

“When people get hot, they behave more aggressively,” Anderson said on an Iowa State webpage. “There’s nothing new here and we’re all finding the same thing.”

Well, not exactly.

“During blizzards and extreme cold, criminals tend to stay indoors just like the rest of us,” James Fox, a Northeastern University criminology professor, wrote for the Boston Globe. “In nice weather, we all tend to spend more time outdoors … bringing with it far more occasions for conflict and opportunities for victimization.”

During heat waves over 90 degrees, Fox argues, crime actually goes down because people are spending time indoors.

For his part, SFPD’s Paulk thinks summer crime is a combination of high temperatures and heat-induced anger.

“Heat just makes us have a very hot temper for some reason,” Paulk said.

He gave an example of accidentally bumping into another person in public.

“If I’m already a hot-tempered person, that would just make me say ‘Hey, watch yourself, pal,’ ” Paulk said. “And the next thing you know we’re [the police] being called to quell a possible fight.”

Santa Fe police Capt. Robert Vasquez, said property crimes are the major issue in the summer months. People tend to leave the windows down on their cars, he said, or leave windows open at their houses. He added that big gatherings and outdoor parties can lead to an increase in public intoxication and perhaps minor fights, but the city’s small number of homicides — there were six in 2017 — are more likely crimes of passion.


“We have different theories and schools of thought saying when it’s warmer we have more activity, which is true,” Vasquez said. “… (but) violent crime, we don’t get that as a result.”

Ríos said county deputies are called more often to domestic violence crimes during the warmer months — spurred, perhaps, by alcohol.

“Hotter weather and people are out drinking,” Ríos said. “That mix, and possibly other drugs, tend to exacerbate volatile domestic violence.”

When it comes to heat, this summer is shaping up to be toasty.

There is at least a 60 percent likelihood that most of New Mexico, except for the northeastern tip of the state, will be hotter than average for the next three months. Exactly how hot, the climate models don’t reveal.

But David Craft, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, points out that even “normal” now is hot: according to NASA, 17 of the last 18 years across the globe have been among the hottest of the last 136 years.

“There’s a likelihood that these months will be some of the warmest we’ve seen on record,” Craft said.

Oh, and the expected high for Santa Fe on Saturday? Eighty-five degrees.