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Rainfall Dampens Criminal Tendencies, Police Find : Weather: Downpours are keeping troublemakers off the streets, according to an informal survey.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

From Santa Ana to Newport Beach, the seemingly endless series of storms that continue to soak Orange County appear to be responsible for helping to keep more criminals and troublemakers off the streets.

An informal survey of a dozen police departments throughout Orange County revealed that police officers have been more busy this winter dealing with traffic accidents and other rain-related incidents than with criminals.

Although the law enforcement agencies have not yet compiled crime statistics for the last two rain-soaked months, most said the rain has helped to reduce the number of burglaries, shootings and robberies.

“There are times in the evening when you won’t hear anything go across your scanner,” said Irvine Police Lt. Al Muir. “On a rainy night, a lot of the city kind of closes up.”

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While Irvine historically has enjoyed a low crime rate--even during good weather--larger cities like Santa Ana are also experiencing an inordinate number of quiet evenings once the rain begins to fall.

“When we have these prolonged rains, we do find that with the exception of traffic collisions, a lot of other activity just seems to kind of dwindle,” Santa Ana Police Lt. Robert Helton said. “Criminals don’t always stay away, of course, but they are not as prone to be out there.”

In Santa Ana, the 11.36 inches of rain that were recorded this January was nearly 10 inches more than the same month last year. Helton said crime tends to decrease dramatically during the storms.

“With drive-by shootings, usually what you have is people congregating in an open area,” Helton said. “When it’s cold and wet, there’s no real incentive for people to be standing out there. Criminals don’t have the same opportunities to have confrontations and conflicts with people.”

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In Newport Beach, the persistent inclement weather has resulted in a decrease of the alcohol-related disturbances at the city’s popular nightspots and tourists attractions, said Sgt. Andy Gonis.

“When the weather is good, we have people who are drinking and getting drunk in public, making disturbances, causing fights and committing felony assaults,” Gonis said. “If people are out and they are active, there are those who wind up getting into trouble.”

Bryan Vila, a criminologist and assistant professor of social ecology at UC Irvine, said that historically, wet weather does usually reduce crime.

“When you have bad weather, you have low crime,” said Vila, a former sheriff’s deputy. “Of course, there are exceptions because anything can happen, anytime. But when there’s lousy weather, criminals don’t tend to be out in it. It’s not much fun that way. Crooks don’t like to get wet and uncomfortable.

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“Opportunity is terribly important,” Vila added. “You can’t have a crime unless you have a victim and an offender together or property and an offender together. The majority of crimes are generally spur-of-the-moment when people are out drinking or doing drugs and they often take the first target.”

Still, the soggy weather has not meant that officers have been idle as many departments report an increase in domestic violence during storms.

“What we see is more family-related disturbance type calls,” said Cypress Police Lt. Larry Bandy. “On a rainy weekend especially, drinking occurs and the cabin fever kind of sets in and problems are created from that.”

Although the rainfall appears to temporarily curb some crime, even short reprieves from the wet weather can bring criminals right back out. This was tragically illustrated by two separate drive-by shootings in Santa Ana last week--one which killed a 17-year-old high school student and another which fatally injured a 2-year-old toddler.

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