As temperatures decrease and winter brings shortened days, human behavior changes coincide with opportunities for property theft and other common crimes.
"Crimes against persons are more numerous in the summer and crimes against property are more numerous in winter," according to Gerhard J. Falk's study entitled "The Influence of the Seasons on the Crime Rate" that can be found in Northwestern University's School of Law Scholarly Commons.
"In the spring quarter, the crimes against the person increase and reach a maximum in the summer, while theft culminates in the winter," Falk said.
There are several hypotheses as to why it seems like there are more property crimes in the winter. One popular idea is that human needs increase due to escalated pressures to find shelter and reliable transportation during the cold, snowy winter months when it is harder to survive outside, according to Falk's study. This leads to car theft, food theft and other property theft becoming a more common occurrence.
"There is a higher metabolic action, so it takes more to keep the body warm and fed," Falk said. "Secondly, seasonal unemployment reaches its peak in winter."
Expenses for heat, clothing and electricity tend to increase in the winter, making it harder for people to pay for the same things they had been able to afford in the warmer months of spring and summer. This can lead to more monetarily motivated crimes being committed such as burglary, especially by those who do not have a stable income.
According to Atlanta Crime Stoppers, crime rates may change in winter because it gets darker earlier and people are more likely to commit crimes at night as opposed to during daylight hours. In addition to shorter days, fewer people are usually out and active during the winter months which means there will be fewer witnesses to these types of crimes. These are both appealing conditions for people considering committing a theft of property.
You may also see more carjackings in the winter, according to Atlanta Crime Stoppers, due to people leaving their cars unattended when they warm them up in the morning. It is important that you try to stay near your car at all times when it is running with keys inside. This would be a good time to scrape snow or ice off your car or check to make sure your tires are all inflated properly and safe to drive on.
Even though new threats are seen during the winter, crime rates do not increase overall during the winter months. In fact, the summer is the time that has the highest rate of most crimes, especially violent crimes.
"People tend to have different activity patterns in the summer," Janice Lauritsen, curators' professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis said. "Children and young adults are out of school, people are more likely to socialize and go on vacations and there are more people out in public. This increases the number of opportunities for crimes to occur and this appears to be the primary reason that crime rates are somewhat higher in the summer."
Even though crime rates tend to be highest in the summer, winter rates are a close second in most cases and the gap between the two seasons is lowest when it comes to property theft and burglaries. The gaps between these two seasons have also been decreasing over time.
According to Falk, changes in weather to either hot or cold extremes creates an increased discomfort and causes emotions to run high, thus creating a more hostile environment that can lead to increases in crime.