Other Free Encyclopedias » Law Library - American Law and Legal Information » Crime and Criminal Law » Arson: Behavioral and Economic Aspects - Offender Types, Arson For Profit, Arson And Collective Violence, Statistical And Economic Issues, Bibliography

Arson: Behavioral and Economic Aspects - Statistical And Economic Issues

crime fires fire data

Since 1970 arson has been referred to as the fastest-growing major crime, and in 1979 the F.B.I. began including it as an "index crime" in its Uniform Crime Reports. Arson is the second leading cause of residential fire deaths. It is responsible for twenty-five percent of all fires in the United States. It is also an extremely violent crime that claims many lives each year. It is estimated that one in four fires is intentionally set and that no less than one thousand deaths and three thousand injuries each year result from arson. The number of arson fires annually is believed to exceed one-half million, with almost half involving buildings and other structures, 30 percent involving vehicles, and the balance directed at outdoor targets ranging from forests to city trash cans. The direct costs of arson in the United States approach $2 billion annually, but estimates suggest that the indirect costs—lost tax revenue and wages, unemployment insurance payments, relocation costs, and other economic ripple effects—are five to ten times higher.

The amount of information dealing with arson and arsonists is severely limited, owing to numerous difficulties in collecting comprehensive and reliable data. First, arson does not always appear to be a crime at the time of occurrence. Many fires are classified as suspicious, but subsequent investigations cannot always document whether a crime did indeed occur. Second, most police agencies are not adequately trained and equipped in the areas of fire science and investigation. Third, the legislative authority to investigate suspicious fires is typically in the hands of state and local fire marshals or municipal fire service companies, with the communication of arson data to law enforcement agencies only on a voluntary basis. Fourth, a significant proportion of firefighters in the United States serve as unpaid volunteers and this results in substandard investigation into the causes of fires. Fifth, rates and trends in arson are generally drawn from arrest statistics, and the unreliability of such data as measures of the incidence and prevalence of crime has been well documented. Sixth, and most important, arson is a low-risk crime, thus yielding few samples of offenders for scientific study. The offense is difficult to prove unless there is a confession or an unimpeachable witness—both unlikely, given the nature of the crime and the criminal. Furthermore, many prosecutors avoid filing formal charges unless the evidence is strong, because the conviction rates for arson are low; and most insurance companies are reluctant to question claims, because they fear civil suits for punitive damages if they turn down a legitimate claim.

Arson: Behavioral and Economic Aspects - Bibliography [next] [back] Arson: Behavioral and Economic Aspects - Arson And Collective Violence

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or