It's The Most Dangerous Time Of The Year: Why do Crimes Increase Around The Holidays?

It’s that time of year again. A time for holiday cheer and carols and gifts and… crime? Yup.  Just as we can expect radio stations to start blasting Mariah Carey’s Christmas songs from 1994, we can also expect crimes to rise. This troubling fact is detailed in Oxygen's upcoming second season of Homicide For The Holidays, premiering Saturday, November 25 at 6/5c.  Dr. Janet Lauritsen, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri in St. Louis told VICE that two types of crimes go up around the holidays: robbery and personal larceny. According to a Washington Post article, retail crime increases by 30%. Dr. Sherry Hamby, the founding editor of the Psychological Association journal Psychology of Violence, told Oxygen that there are several factors that may explain why this may occur.

 

 

“Crimes spike on days off--so, all year round, crime rates are much higher on Friday and Saturday and is higher at night than in the morning,” Hamby explained. “So any increase during the holidays might be simply due to more idle time and more drinking and other drug use.”

She said that stress in general increases the risk of perpetration. And, we all know how stressful the holiday season can be.

“Some people experience depression during the holidays because it can highlight feelings of loneliness or create pressure to spend time with family, and for some people that means spending time in high-conflict situations,” Hamby said.

Dr. Brian A. Kinnaird, is a police officer-turned professor, author and trainer in the fields of social psychology and criminal justice. He told Oxygen that “there are many factors and variables that relate to help understand why people commit crimes and when. Few empirical studies by researchers (social scientists and criminologists) have been done to examine crime on the holidays so what is left are some big holes and mostly anecdotes with educated guesses based on theories and practice.”

He said that, keeping that mind, it is often the unpredictability that makes crime happen.

“This is where major holidays like Independence Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve, New Year's Day, etc. are specific times where one deviates from their routine activity,” Kinnaird said.

He said that holidays are not routine activities.

“ Like any rock and roll or country song that talks about 5 o'clock somewhere or ‘It's finally Friday’ or some derivation thereof continues to teach and socialize us to ‘plan for the big day.’ As such, holidays pose a time where people plan for gifts, alcohol and drugs, fireworks, family get-togethers and so forth. As such, holidays pose a time where people plan for gifts, alcohol and drugs, fireworks, family get-togethers and so forth. Holidays are not As such, holidays pose a time where people plan for gifts, alcohol and drugs, fireworks, family get-togethers and so forth. Holidays are not ‘routine activities.’  

Kinnaird said that holiday crimes are all about opportunity.

Officer Jason Willingham, from the Tulsa (Oklahoma) Police Department, told South University during a 2010 study that the holiday seasons bring crimes of opportunities.

"Criminals tend to strike more during the holiday season because they know there are many people out holiday shopping," he said. "There are more victims out there. The more cars there are, the easier it is for those guys to blend in.”

He said he sees purse snatchings and vehicle burglaries at shopping areas go up.

“When you leave the mall, before you walk outside, put your keys in your hand, think about where you parked, and put the cell phone down,” Willingham said. “These guys look for victims. If someone is walking swiftly with a purpose and they know what’s going on around them, they’re not going to attack that individual.”

But it's not just the physical stores. He said that people online also need to be on the lookout for criminals. Scam shopping sites and bogus charities prey on holiday shoppers so make sure to vet any online spending or donations.

Kinnaird said while impossible to completely make yourself invincible to crime, we can lower our risk.

“That means not being a vulnerable target or without a capable guardian. Use adequate lighting (home, school, work, and vehicle), always use your locks, don't leave your purse, wallet, phone, or valuables in your car where the bad guy can peek in and ‘smash and grab.’”

[Photo: Getty Images]

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