Chicago Pollution May be Leading to Higher Crime Rates

Posted on in Violent Crime

Chicago pollution and crimeWe have long known that air pollution is not beneficial to humans. Particles in the air are neurological irritants and have effects on human comfort levels and behaviors. Being surrounded by and inhaling pollution can lead to antisocial behavior, lack of productivity, and lower levels of awareness and alertness. Aside from the many health risks, experts have wondered if pollution may have another effect on humans.

In a recent paper published by the National Bureau for Economic Research, two researchers say their findings indicate a link between violent crime and car pollution in Chicago. Could pollution be a factor that drives people to commit violent criminal acts?

Thanks to a large amount of data from the Chicago Police Department, the two researchers were able to examine more than 2 million cases of major crimes committed from 2001 to 2012. The researchers pinpointed the locations of each crime, and noted their proximity to major interstates crossing the city, such as the I-290.

Finally, they used meteorological data to determine the wind direction on each day a crime was committed and were able to identify the direction the pollution from the highways was blowing. They then examined the frequency of crimes committed on days with high pollution levels and compared the data to data from the same neighborhoods on days when pollution was not an issue.

Experts say the results are significant. The data shows that neighborhoods which border Chicago’s major highways experience higher violent crime rates on days when pollution is blown in their direction. In fact, the researchers estimate there is a 2.2 percent higher rate of violent crime in polluted areas.

The spike is in violent crime—rape, assault, battery, and homicide, which leads researchers to believe the irritants in air pollution lead people to be more inclined to commit violent crime. “We think that is suggestive of the idea that people are more irritable, more likely to cross a line that they would not have otherwise crossed,” writes one of the paper’s authors.

The authors were unable, however, to pinpoint exactly what car pollutant, such as nitrogen oxide or carbon monoxide, is the actual cause of the change in behavior. It also is not clear exactly how the pollution leads people to criminal behavior, though other studies have shown that other forms of pollution, such as air pollution, lead to increased irritability and aggression. The researchers only noticed a spike in violent crime, compared to other forms of crime like property theft, leading them to believe that the pollution promotes physical aggression.

While studies linking pollution to crime are still few and far between, experts, both proponents and critics, say this new research deserves more attention. Experts have long researched correlations between higher temperatures and violent crimes, so linking pollution to crime comes as no surprise.

Even skeptics find the results interesting. “This is interesting and important work and, at the very least, begs for more research on the subject,” writes one critic. The research only examined pollution related to vehicles, leading some experts to believe this is only the beginning of more findings linking pollution to crime and other erratic behavior.

If you are facing criminal charges, you need the help of a qualified Chicago criminal defense attorney. At the Law Offices of Hal M. Garfinkel LLC, Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney, our skilled team of attorneys is equipped to handle a variety of criminal cases, and will work vigorously to reduce any consequences you may be facing. Call 312-629-0669 or visit us online to learn more about our services and schedule a consultation today.


Back to Top