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Homicide Rates Drop With Temperatures

This article originally appeared in The Chicago Tribune on Feb. 28, 2014.

By Marie L. Crandall

A 14-year-old boy was shot and killed in Woodlawn this month as he walked near his home. A few days prior, a 17-year-old high school student was fatally shot as he shoveled snow near his Near West Side home.

Though Chicago lags behind other major cities in the decline in homicide rates, it is beginning to show some improvement. There were 415 homicides in Chicago last year, compared with more than 900 a year in the mid-1990s.

As a trauma surgeon who has treated shooting victims for several years, for me, these are not just statistics. These are patients I have come to know or, sadly, could not save.

One aspect that's not often addressed is how the weather affects homicide rates. While we have endured a bitterly cold blast for much of this year, it's been proved that warmer weather is predictive of an increase in violent injury rates.

So I caution city government to not ease up on successful policing strategies based on the improved crime statistics of 2013.

This is not to express doubt at the strategies in place. Rather, I think more emphasis should be placed on prevention and intervention — particularly focusing on at-risk youth and their families.

Clearly there are other factors at play besides weather that determine homicide rates — accessibility to guns, drugs, unemployment, socioeconomic concerns, education and family stability.

But that should not stop us from putting more effort into improving educational and recreational opportunities for at-risk children. We should continue to work at improving relationships of trust between the police and communities that are suspicious of law enforcement.

We should keep the extra 400 cops assigned to the 20 "impact zones" in the most dangerous areas on the South and West sides. We should continue partnering with community organizations, such as CureViolence, to decrease retaliatory shootings and continue providing increased opportunities for youth, such as summer jobs programs.

While I celebrate the improvement in violent injury rates last year, I caution all of us to understand that this is a process. Smoking in public places did not go away overnight and not without a fight.

It is cold outside. While there are fewer gunshot victims showing up for treatment in my emergency room, we need to be at the ready for when the heat returns to the streets.

- Marie L. Crandall is an associate professor of medicine at Northwestern University

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