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The Impact of a Hurricane on Routine Activities and on Calls for Police Service: Charlotte, North Carolina, and Hurricane Hugo


Cohen and Felson's routine activity theory asserts that crime occurs when motivated offenders converge in time and space with targets lacking capable guardianship. Crime is a product of our normal everyday routines. This research examines how Hurricane Hugo altered routine activities during the period 22nd September–2nd October 1989, in Charlotte, North Carolina. The impacts of this natural disaster are reflected by changes in the quantity, nature, and timing of calls for police service.

A modified routine activity framework is employed to explain the conceptual linkages among routine activities, time, calls to the police, and weather. Furthermore, different time periods are defined as being primarily for the pursuit of either obligatory or discretionary routine activities. The calls-for-service data for this research emanate from the computer-aided dispatch files of the Charlotte Police Department.

The results indicate that Hurricane Hugo seriously impeded the circulation of the city and disrupted routine activities. Calls for service increased greatly during the day of Hugo's arrival, and remained high for over a week. The inability of the population to pursue their normal routine activity patterns meant that time periods ordinarily used for the pursuit of obligatory activities changed to discretionary time periods. Moreover, while the police still fulfilled their law enforcement function, the nature and volume of the calls indicated a greater emphasis on order maintenance and service functions. Finally, during Hugo's arrival day and the following three days of recovery burglary reports were much higher than normal, as were reports of a man with a gun; the former implies that the hurricane increased vulnerable targets, while the latter implies defensive gun use may have been used as a method of enhancing guardianship.

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LeBeau, J. The Impact of a Hurricane on Routine Activities and on Calls for Police Service: Charlotte, North Carolina, and Hurricane Hugo. Crime Prev Community Saf 4, 53–64 (2002).

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  • Circulation
  • guardianship
  • obligatory and discretionary routine activities
  • calls for police service