‘40 Below Keeps the Riff-Raff Out’: Does crime go down when temps drop?

Published: Jan. 30, 2023 at 7:30 PM CST
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Wind chills of 40 degrees below zero to most people outside of the Midwest are unimaginable, but to North Dakotans, it’s just another Monday. Weather like this may have some people begging for spring, but others think we could use more cold weather days.

“‘Cuz if we had more 40 below weather... see, one of the things, the crime rate goes down considerably.... and it’s already low. But that’s the point, is if it was 40 below more, the ones that are left would leave too” said Art Rude in his YouTube video.

Art Rude was a former math and physics professor at Bismarck State College but he’s also an author and musician. Possibly his most recognized song is called “40 Below” where he harmonizes his theory on cold weather and crime.

It was a popular song to play on cold days on KFYR radio. Linnea Reeves remembers listeners enjoying the song so much they’d call in to specifically request it.

“Sometimes they would call in and sing along, and you know, it was because it was so cold outside, that song just fit appropriately and Art Rude was a great entertainer,” said Reeves, a former KFYR radio DJ.

Those who worked with Art at BSC remember his desire to make mathematics less intimidating through humor and music.

“The more I got to know Art, I found out he was a music writer. I like playing music, so we got together every now and then and played some music together and then I found out he came out with at least one album that I know of with the infamous, ‘40 Below Keeps the Riff-Raff Out,’” said Shawn Iverson, an assistant professor of Human Anatomy & Physiology and Human Biology at BSC.

Others agree that the song was one of his most requested and most popular.

“Oh yeah, ‘40 below is what keeps the riff-raff out,’ that’s like one of his signature songs, certainly one of his most played songs and certainly during the winter when it’s January and February in Bismarck, it’s an appropriate song,” added Dean Bellin, associate professor of Technical Theater at BSC.

But was this man on to something bigger? Is there truth in cold weather keeping criminals out of trouble... or at least out of North Dakota? Burleigh County Sheriff Kelly Leban says maybe in the past but not anymore.

“Back in the 90s and early 2000s, when winter came, we did see a drop in activity. But now, as more people have come to our area, so, you know, you’ve got a lot more people coming in and out of the area, I just think it’s just become where now we don’t actually slow down, we just change what we’re doing,” said Sheriff Leban.

Sheriff Leban points to the oil boom as a “game-changer” for his line of work.

So, even though this song may not be true as North Dakota’s population ebbs and flows with oil activity, its tune is still catchy enough to catch yourself tapping your toes and perhaps singing it as you warm up your car in the morning.

Art Rude was also a published author who enjoyed snowmobiling and living “off the grid” on his family farm in northern North Dakota. You can find his book and his collection of songs on his website.