MERCED — As temperatures spike across Merced County, so can crime.
Lt. Sam Joseph of the Atwater Police Department is cautioning people to be vigilant as the weather changes and the days get longer.
Average high temperatures in Merced usually break 70 degrees at the end of March, then shoot into the 80s in May, weather trends show. This week, the National Weather Service is anticipating temperatures to reach the low-80s.
"When the weather heats up, crime heats up," Joseph said. His department has become familiar with crime rates and calls for service going up in the summertime in Atwater.
Many factors contribute to that trend, he said. Longer days, parties, people consuming more alcohol and the warm weather all play a part in the increase in violent crime, according to Joseph.
Property crime bumps up this time of year as people leave their homes to go on vacation, Joseph said. Burglars take advantage of open cars and house windows.
"Burglars are human, so they tend to come out in the weather that's easier to go out in," he said.
Chief Ruben Chavez of the Livingston Police Department agrees with that assessment.
He said overall crime picks up in Livingston by about 30 percent when the heat hits.
A lot of that criminal activity is connected to gangs, which become more active in the summer, he said, adding that he's working to put together a gang-prevention program to get ahead of that issue before the weather turns hot.
Joseph encourages citizens to be aware of their surroundings during the summer months and take measures to prevent themselves from being victimized, such as not leaving windows open.
If residents notice suspicious activity, they should call the Police Department, Joseph said. That way, authorities can be aware of any abnormal circumstances and follow any criminal trends.
"In Atwater, we want to know what's going on, and we want to make the citizens feel safe," he said.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.