How the Texas Power Outage Impacted Crime Rates
Many have deemed the response to the 2021 power outage in Texas a crime
in and of itself. Houston mayor Sylvester Turner called on the state of
Texas to pay for the electric bills that a bevy of Texans reported after
severe winter weather knocked out their power and spiked energy prices.
Some households have even been faced with utility bills as high as $10,000.
Regardless of how you feel about the government’s response to natural
disaster, one fact remains clear – natural disasters have the potential
to cause upticks in crime.
The power outage in Texas was no exception to this phenomenon. Perhaps,
the most notable uptick in crime was related to
car thieves. Natural disasters like this distract the whole population, and those
with criminal intentions find no better opportunity to strike. While the
power was out in the state of Texas, two Dodge Chargers
were stolen, along with several other cars. According to a
local news report, five cars and nearly forty-five keys at Ancira Auto Group, a dealership
in San Antonio, TX, were stolen during the storm. Someone took the opportunity
to break into the dealership early in the morning.
Upticks in crime during natural disasters have been an issue our society
has faced time and time again. After all, we are only human, and humans
tend to react in adverse ways to drastic situations. While some
sociology researchers assert that disasters reduce criminal activity during and after the event,
criminologists who use
social disorganization theory assert that disaster can increase the likelihood and occurrence of crime.
Because we have seen this increase in crime affect the people of Texas,
let’s look into the reasons why crime can increase during natural
- Vulnerable people become desperate for shelter and safety.
During the power outage in Texas, residents faced record-low temperatures and
millions were left without access to electricity. Some Texans were even evacuated
from their residency and transported to shelters where they were greeted
with warming centers. Many other natural disasters that have happened
in the U.S. throughout the years, like hurricanes and wildfires, have
left people fleeing their homes as well. Desperate times call for desperate
measures, and even if you could never imagine committing a crime yourself,
you can surely imagine how being in such a vulnerable state might cause
you to act out of character.
- Crowded spaces have the potential to increase instances of aggression.
Crowded spaces and mass gatherings have historically been known to lead
to civil disobedience and violence. Mass gatherings are correlated with
increased damage to both property and people. Fortunately, only a small
number of crowds actually turn violent. A
study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that
people in more densely populated cities show lower levels of friendliness,
as measured by indicators like unwillingness to pick up something that
a stranger had dropped and perform other acts of kindness. We could see
how, when faced with a crowd, especially an unprecedented and vulnerable
crowd like in the case of a natural disaster, this unfriendliness could
escalate to criminal instances of
- Increased stress levels can cause individuals to perpetrate violence and
crimes most often occur as a result of stress. In general, people commit crime because of greed,
revenge, anger, jealousy, and pride. However, all of these feelings are
usually due to some kind of psychological stress. Stressful events like
natural disasters activate an individual’s “fight or flight” response. This causes the brain to release adrenaline and stress
hormones like cortisol. Not only does this chemical reaction lead to more
impulsive and crime-ridden behavior, but it can also increase instances of
In 2010, for example, researchers from
Center for Drug and Social Policy Research found that approximately one-third of Hurricane Katrina survivors who
had been displaced to Houston had increased their tobacco, alcohol, and
marijuana use after the storm. Stress certainly takes a toll on our brains
and causes us to act in ways we normally would not, and we see that play
out in the way crime increases during natural disasters.
- There is a lack of authority figures present during natural disasters,
or the authority figures are distracted solving major safety issues.
During a natural disaster, the duties of a police officer change drastically.
Not only do their duties change, but they must adapt in a way they likely
never have before. They are still responsible for keeping the community
safe from looting, destruction of property, and theft. However, at the
forefront of their minds is likely evacuating citizens, rendering life-saving
techniques, and securing points of dispensing sites. When your job description
grows for a period of time, it is only natural that some of the duties
are neglected, and it is likely that their priority shifts from the typical
police duties to keeping citizens as safe as possible.
Although the police are not necessarily absent during natural disasters,
they might not be attending to their typical duties with as much fervor.
Criminals know this, and they might choose this time to take advantage
of the situation. According to a
study conducted by Florida State University and George Mason University, increasing
police by 10% leads to a 3% reduction in property crimes and assaults.
You could see how, when police are busy keeping the community safe, other
areas of duty might fall more vulnerable to crime.
If you have found yourself facing criminal charges and need a criminal
defense attorney, Derek A. Adame is here to provide the aggressive legal
support you need. Give us a call or
contact us online to find out how we can help.