As the weather warms in May -- other than the occasional soul-crushing snowstorm – state and local law enforcement agencies are preparing for an accompanying spike in crime, which may stem from a number of different factors, including the heat to some extent.
In 2013, Casper police detained about 30 percent more people in July, about 200, than in April, when they made a bit more than 150 arrests.
An upward trend in Casper arrests last year, which peaked in both July and September, began in May and steadily rose -- except in August -- until October.
Statewide, that trend holds true. Law enforcement across Wyoming detained about 1,250 people in April 2013. In July, the peak month for arrests in the state last year, police arrested about 1,550 people, or 25 percent more.
Those numbers are from the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police, and they reflect a nationwide trend. For the most part, there's an uptick in crime in the summer months.
Several experts outlined the reasons why that trend holds in Wyoming.
“A big part of it is that a crime-prone age group, 14- to 25-year-olds, is out of school,” said Art Washut, the head of Casper College’s Criminal Justice Department and a retired 20-year veteran of the Casper Police Department. “It’s more complicated than just the weather heating up.”
Washut said that people tend to drink more alcohol in the summer, which also might lead to more arrests. In 2013, 77 percent of the roughly 19,000 arrests made in Wyoming involved alcohol or drugs.
Washut also said studies have shown that arrest numbers often increase with the temperatures, but only until they hit the mid-80s. At that point, the rate decreases.
“We used to have a saying in the department, ‘Severe weather is the greatest policeman,’” Washut said.
That was true in Casper last year. In both July and September, Casper police reported about 200 arrests. In August, however, only about 160 arrests were made.
Rich Adriaens, the president of the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police, pointed to another factor statewide that affects arrest numbers during the summer.
“The state’s population swells in the summertime,” Adriaens said. “You have massive groups of people coming in, especially to some of the more rural areas, for tourism and festivals in the summer.”
Adriaens, the police chief in Sheridan, said smaller departments seek federal grants and other sources of money to station enough officers at such gatherings.
He also eyed alcohol as a contributing factor to increased summer arrests, saying people become more visible because they are outside more.
Casper police officer Joe Nickerson agreed with that sentiment and said many crimes during the summer are “crimes of opportunity.”
“You might have someone walking home drunk from a bar who decides to break into a business,” said Nickerson, a crime prevention officer for the department.
Sgt. Rich Brown, of the Casper Police Department, said that locally, burglaries, auto burglaries and crimes like vandalism increase during the summer. He pointed to students getting out of school as a factor in those increases.
Brown said the temperature increase might also play a role in some cases.
“Sometimes the heat makes people’s tempers flare,” he said.
Brown said the police department increases patrols for DUIs and speeding during the summer. He also said there is an increase in “party patrol.”
Sheriff Gus Holbrook said his office increases patrol out near Alcova and Pathfinder reservoirs during the summer.
“It’s for public safety,” Holbrook said. “It’s not always contact because of crime. If someone’s boat breaks down and they need assistance, we’re there to help.”
Even with the slight increases in crime during the summer, Casperites are still relatively safe, especially out in public, said Washut, the Casper College instructor.
He said that in his experience as a police officer, the most dangerous place was a person’s own home, where domestic violence occurs, often stemming from drunken arguments.
“You could be walking around with $20 bills hanging out of all your pockets in downtown Casper and never get mugged, but then go home and get beaten,” Washut said.
For reference, in Casper all last year, there were 2,283 arrests leading to incarceration by the police department. In Chicago, there were 2,441 violent crimes -- in August 2013 alone -- according to data gathered by the Chicago Tribune.