The start of summer means more time outside, but for Simone Townsend, rising temperatures lead to anxiety about safety in her Penrose neighborhood.
“The time frame I start to worry is when it starts to warm up, whether it’s in May or June or April,” Townsend said.
So her 12-year-old son and her grandchildren aren’t allowed to go outside without her or another adult. Townsend said she’s seen violence just outside her home in north St. Louis, and when summer starts, the risk only increases.
“It’s bad because they just can’t play outside without having to worry about gunshots,” Townsend said.
“What we see in data over the last couple of decades is that serious violence tends to be about 5 to 6 percent higher in the summer than it is during other months of the year,” said Janet Lauritsen, a criminology professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
The reason crime spikes in warmer weather is fairly simple, according to Lauritsen. As temperatures rise and more people head outside, the chance of violent encounters also goes up.
“There are more available targets, more interactions between people which could lead to conflict, which may result in some sort of violence,” Lauritsen said.
The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department receives 5,000 to 6,000 more calls for service during the summer months, said Major Mary Warnecke.
She said the police department follows crime trends, particularly in the “quadrangle,” a region in north St. Louis stretching from Goodfellow Boulevard, Vandeventer Avenue, Dr. Martin Luther King Drive and West Florissant Avenue. That area tends to see a large number of violent crimes, particularly during warmer weather.
Warnecke said the department doesn’t put additional officers on the streets during the summer months.
“We are limited to the resources that we have in any given time. We don’t have additional manpower,” she said. "But we do have a variety of support units that have some flexibility that we can relocate as the need arises.”
In the city’s 22nd Ward, Alderman Jeffrey Boyd is hopeful that more focus on community policing will help contain crime this summer. In late May, the police department sponsored a community engagement event at Barrett Brothers Park in the WellsGoodfellow neighborhood, which is in Boyd's ward. More than 300 children and adults attended he event, Boyd said. Events that encourage interactions between the police and citizens is something that Boyd hopes to see more.
“I’m very energized, but I also get anxieties when late spring and early summer pop up because we do have a rise in crime,” he said.
Boyd lost his 23-year-old nephew to gun violence on July 13, 2015 in the 5800 block of Lotus Avenue. The incident occurred on what happened to be the hottest day of that month. Boyd said his nephew was visiting his girlfriend’s house when he was shot outside. A memorial remains today at the site of the incident.
During the summer months, data show that between 70 and 80 degrees, there’s on average one more violent crime in St. Louis. The effect slows down, peaking at 90 degrees. When the temperatures are hotter than 90 degrees, the crime starts to drop.
Boyd points to a lack of opportunity as one reason for the warm weather uptick in violence.
“I think we need to enhance our programs for youth as far as job opportunities,” he said. “When you put them to work, you take away those opportunities to be out there doing negative stuff.”
In fact, city and police also are working with various community programs in an effort to reduce violence. At an event earlier in May, the Regional Business Council and Civic Progress announced a $900,000 investment to provide job training programs for so-called at-risk youth. The investment is part of a larger goal to improve public safety.
“There’s a connection between violent crime and lack of opportunities,” St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief John Hayden told St. Louis Public Radio at the event. “For example a lack of job opportunities, a lack of education opportunities, and sometimes a lack of opportunities to de-escalate.”
Hayden said giving young people a chance to work toward something will help them avoid negative activities, such as drug sales, that often lead to violence.
In the Penrose neighborhood, Townsend copes by taking her son and granddaughter, both 12, with her to work at the Gateway Region YMCA. She isn’t willing to leave the pre-teens alone during the long summer days.
“When I come to work, they come to summer camp with me, so they’re not at home,” she said. “When I’m not home, no, they cannot go outside and no, they better not open the door.”
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