The Arson Epidemic
CMRJ206 Professor Mark W. Bond
February 17, 2009
Once the fire is out, the investigation starts. There are usually two types of ways that a fire starts: one is ignorance which is an accident and the other is criminal which is malicious and therefore arson. According to Brady (1982), “…Arson is becoming one of the most destructive and profitable crimes in the country” (p.249).
There are many victims that occur once a fire is started with the malicious intent. Individuals, whole communities, real estate companies, banks, insurance agencies, law and fire departments are all affected in one way or another from this crime. In 2009, Swanson, Chamelin, Territo, Taylor, concluded, “Arson is an inherently difficult crime to detect and prosecute, in part because the motivations for and methods of committing arson vary widely” (p.594).
Arson investigations are a highly elaborate process, unless it is conducted immediately and with help from several departments; police, fire and insurance, valuable evidence may be lost.
Ignorance or Malice?
Investigation into a fire is the responsibility of both the police and the fire department; if they work together valuable evidence can be maintained and processed. The fire department has a difficult task where in they are taught to be more concerned with public relation of cleaning premises of debris and water, than that of fire loss (Swanson, Chamelin, Territo, Taylor, 2009, p.594).
The significance of the damages and losses brought by fire incidents is beyond any expression of human measurement, thus, the fire responders and investigators are always tasked with challenging accountability that begins from the incidence response to the cause investigation. The fire needs to be extinguish, not only to prevent further damages to the property and protect the victims’ lives, ...
It is up the police arson investigator to bridge this gap to ensure that the scene is not compromised and evidence is not overseen and destroyed. Once the fire has been extinguished the task of the investigator is to examine the remains of the building and the surrounding area for evidence of how the fire may have begun. This examination can lead directly to knowing if the fire was an accident or if it was arson.
Once the fire has been determined to have been set deliberately and with intent the investigator must move quickly. There can be several indications that a fire has been set with intent. In order to determine these indication there are several resources that are available to the police investigators. Specialized training that the firefighters have with their observation of the fires behavior must not be overlooked; with interviewing them it could be a direct link into indicating arson. According to Petherick et al. (2006), “… arson is a difficult crime to investigate because of its destructive nature and this calls for a great deal of training and knowledge on the part of those who seek to research the act and catch the actor” (p.225).
There is several ways that an investigator can detect the use of fire accelerants. The investigator can either use portable equipment to detect residues of flammable liquids or some may have access to canines that are specifically trained. Sandercock (2008) noted, “It was found that the canine’s ability to recognize previously learned odors did not decrease as the number of substances trained increased, and that the amount of time required to train a canine on a new odor decreased as more odor discriminations were learned” (p.97).
This is quite different in human who may also be sensitive to certain flammable liquids but not all.
Motive & Opportunity
There are several types of arson; arson for profit, vanity fires, and revenge-motivated arson (Fletcher, 1991p.41-77).
Arson for profit is motivated by economic gain usually due to a financial stress or a fraud scheme (Swanson, Chamelin, Territo, Taylor, 2009, p.603).
There are multiple agencies that can work with fire investigators. Each of these can either help with preservation of life, collection of evidence and finding the cause of the fire as well as helping fix any damage made and try to prevent it. Each of the agencies that will be mentioned help out with these. Police The police are usually the first people on the scene other than the fire services, ...
Vanity fires are arson fires that are set by people that set the fire just so they can be the hero or would-be fireman that need recognition (Fletcher, 1991 p.58).
There are several revenge-motivated arsons that according to Swanson, Chamelin, Territo, Taylor (2009), “…are set in retaliation for some injustice, real or imagined, perceived by the offender”(p.607).
When determining motives for arson the investigator has to use many techniques in order to obtain the identity of the person and their motives behind the arson. In order to do this the investigator must interview not only the suspect but everyone involved with the property before, during and after the fire.
The first main interview that should be conducted is with the firefighter who engaged the fire and is able to convey the fire’s behavior; this can lead to a reconstruction of the property before the fire and water damage. During the fire there may be several people who gather to observe the fire and this can lead to interviews of possible witnesses. Through questioning of these witnesses the investigation can branch off into many areas; such as, subjects or vehicles fleeing the premises. It is important to contact the insurance personnel to be able to seek out arson for profit motives that may arise. When the interview of the owner finally approaches; after the background information on the fire has been processed, there may be many differences on how the investigator approaches this interview (Swanson, Chamelin, Territo, Taylor, 2009, p.613).
The owner may be the suspect or they may be the target.
Arson investigators are in need of better training, equipment and cooperation in order to combat the epidemic that is spreading. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program in its annual publication, Crime in the United States, 2002, “law enforcement agencies reported a total of 74,921 arson offenses during 2002” (Arson Statistics, 2004).
This report also stated that “law enforcement agencies collectively cleared 16.5 percent of arsons” (Arson Statistics, 2004).
Investigators must currently rely on the training that they do have. Through securing the scene properly, photographs, collection and processing of evidence, interviewing and collecting documentation investigators can start to take steps to controlling this epidemic.
Crime Scene Investigators work with police to individuals or groups of people suspected of a committing a criminal act. They do their job by collecting evidence and data from the crime scene. They take these items and identify, classify, and analyze them. Sometimes called forensic science technicians, these investigators are extremely important during trials. They testify based on their findings ...
Brady, James P. (1982).
Arson, Fiscal Crisis, and Community Action: Dialectics of an Urban Crime and Popular Response. Crime Delinquency, 28,247-270. Retreieved February 21, 2009, doi:10.1177/001112878202800205
Crime Data: Arson Statistics. (2004, July).
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 73(7), 11. Retrieved February 21, 2009, from Research Library database. (Document ID: 672910501).
Fletcher, Connie (1991).
Pure Cop: Cop Talk from the Street to the Specialized Units-Bomb Squad, Arson, Hostage Negotiation, Prostitution, Major Accidents, Crime Scene. New York: Villard Books.
Petherick, Wayne., Kennedy, Daniel B., Homant, Robert., Turvey, Brent., McGrath, Michael., Norris, Gareth., Lowe, Andrew., Field, David., Fry, Elizabeth., Goldworthy, Terry., Brogan, Ross., (2006).
Serial Crime: Theoretical and Practical Issues in Behavioral Profiling (Wayne Petherick, Ed.).
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Fire investigation and ignitable liquid residue analysis—A review: 2001–2007. Forensic Science International, 176(2/3), 93-110. Retrieved February 21, 2009, doi:10.1016/j.forsciint.2007.09.004
Swanson, Charles R., Chamelin, Neil C., Territo, Leonard, Taylor, Robert W., (2009).
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New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.