Winter puts chill on crime, homicides

2014-02-08T22:00:00Z 2014-03-11T18:13:43Z Winter puts chill on crime, homicidesLauri Harvey Keagle lauri.keagle@nwi.com, (219) 852-4311 nwitimes.com

Local law enforcement officials may have found one of the few pieces of good news from the seemingly never-ending snow and below-zero temperatures this this year.

"We get a corresponding crime drop with the temperature drop, no doubt about it," Hammond Police Chief Brian Miller said.

Police throughout the region reported dramatic dips in crime for January 2014 over January 2013. In Chicago, homicides dropped 50 percent, from 40 in January 2013 to 20 in January 2014.

Coroners' offices in Lake, Porter and LaPorte county all recorded zero homicides in January. The Lake County Coroner's office has averaged five homicides in January since 2000.

In January 2013, Lake County logged seven homicides.

"Mother Nature did what 246 police officers could not do and that's slow down crime," Gary Police Chief Wade Ingram said.

Ingram's city was plagued with homicides in 2013. Gary logged 55 homicides by year's end, up from 43 in 2012. In January 2013, Gary had five homicides and this January, none.

"This is the first time since I've been chief we've gone a whole month without a homicide," Ingram said.

Ingram said his officers, in conjunction with the Region STOP team and other task forces, are continuing their pro-active efforts to keep crime down and welcome the assistance of the cold and snow.

"I don't personally like it, but if it keeps crime down, I'll take it," he said. "Right now, these guys are hibernating and come March, they'll come and we need to be ready for them."

Miller said crime in Hammond in January was down 30 percent over January 2013.

Robberies dropped 44 percent, assaults 42 percent, burglaries 25 percent, thefts, 21 percent, car thefts 57 percent and arsons 50 percent.

Miller said the same correlation holds true in the summer months.

"When we see there's going to be a 100-degree day, we know there's going to be trouble," he said.

The downside to the cold and snow, Miller said, is his traffic division becomes inundated with crashes.

"The vast majority of those involve driving too fast and following too closely," Miller said.

Robert Byrd, spokesman for the Major Crimes Task Force, said the group was not deployed on any new cases in January.

"When it is that cold and that snowy, things do tend to calm down," Byrd said.

Lake County Sheriff John Buncich said the county has seen "a drastic drop in our (jail) population." The Lake County Jail has been at or below 700 inmates for much of January and the beginning of February, down from the average of 750, Buncich said.

The county enforcement division, which issues warrants, has remained busy, he said.

"We've been successful in part because we're catching them at home," Buncich said.

Sgt. Larry LaFlower, spokesman for the Porter County Sheriff's Department, said crime in January was down 50 percent from January 2013 in all major crime categories.

"It's definitely attributed to the weather," LaFlower said. "The thieves are opportunists and if it's nasty out, they aren't heading out there."

LaFlower said the same holds true during thunderstorms and severe weather events other times of the year.

Porter County Coroner Chuck Harris said the lack of homicides in January was not all that unusual, given the county averages just three homicides a year.

LaPorte County Coroner John Sullivan said homicides tend to be lower in his county in the winter months, when the county is often hit with heavy lake-effect snow. The homicides spike in the summer months, he said.

"In January and February, we mostly have car wrecks and heart attacks from shoveling the snow. In the hot summer months, we see more gang-related deaths and domestics and stabbings near the Michigan City lakefront," Sullivan said.

While most regionites are ready for spring, law enforcement officials would just as well keep the cold and snow coming.

"I want to be the chief of police in Barrow, Alaska," Miller joked.

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