In a week when winter storms caused widespread devastation, there was one bright spot: The rains seem to have put a damper on crime.
Violent crime last week -- when it rained for four of seven days -- was down 23% in Los Angeles and property crime dropped by a quarter compared to the same week last year.
Police and social scientists were not surprised, saying that they have long known that weather affects criminal behavior.
“When I went to England they introduced me to two of their best police constables: P.C. Wind and P.C. Rain,” said Assistant Chief George Gascon of the Los Angeles Police Department. “For the last few weeks we’ve seen crime dip in part because of the bad weather. Few people are on the streets. If you do a drive-by, there is no one to shoot.”
Ellen G. Cohn, an associate professor of criminology at Florida International University who has extensively studied the relationship between weather and crime, said the connection was well-established. At times of extremes in temperature and humidity the number of crimes drops, she said. In good weather, the number rises.
“Extremely unpleasant weather, be it torrential rain, hurricane winds or overwhelming heat, acts as negative stimulation,” she said. “Research suggests a fight or flee theory, and when the conditions become unpleasant criminals flee.”
Rampart Division Senior Lead Officer Mike Wang offered a less technical explanation. “The only people who don’t like to be out in the rain more than cops are the criminals,” he said. “There is very little street violence in an area like Rampart when it rains.”
In the Hollywood Division, where overall crime was down 46% last week from the same period last year, police speculated that a drop in tourism during rainstorms may have been partially responsible. “Rain keeps tourists away, [which means fewer] victims and suspects coming to Hollywood,” Hamilton said, adding that the pedestrian-popular area is a hub for crimes such as picking pockets.
But Hamilton said that child abuse and domestic violence showed an uptick of 25% over the previous year. Hamilton said those crimes can increase during periods when families are confined indoors. Citywide, murder rates are up slightly for the year.
Meanwhile, police citywide said they were bracing for the next few sunny days, since criminologists have found crime rises slightly above the norm immediately after bad weather.
“What worries me is the coming days. There are going to be some cases of cabin fever out there,” said Deputy Chief Earl Paysinger, head of policing in the South Bureau.