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Arsonists driven by different motives

POSTED September 19, 2012 1:38 p.m.
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Everyone loves to sit around a camp fire during a cool night in the great outdoors. Who is not comforted by its warmth and the calming effects of the flames as they dance around in the fire pit? Fire is perhaps one of the most potentially destructive forces on earth. et, since the existence of mankind, fire has also been a life-sustaining element, critical to humans for both survival and comfort. How people use fire is another issue entirely. And when it comes to the misuse of fire, we think of arson, which is a very serious crime.

An arson is when someone "willfully and maliciously sets fire to or burns or causes to be burned or who aids, counsels, or procures the burning of, any structure, forest land, or property." During these current times, arsons have become more prevalent with persons setting their homes and cars on fire for false insurance claims when their homes are foreclosing and vehicles are about to be repossessed. Arson is also commonly used by criminals in effort to cover up evidence that might incriminate them.

There is a psychological aspect associated with some arsonists. People who commit the crime for reasons other than committing insurance fraud or to eliminate evidence are believed to have anger issues or other psychological difficulties. Some arson fires are started by people who have an inordinate fascination with fire, while others are simply seeking destruction or using fire as a force of power that they would otherwise not possess. A good example of this is where the arsonist sets a fire and stays around to watch all the fire and police activity that follows. We have also found that when there are a series of suspicious fires in an area, it is likely the work of an arsonist with psychological issues. Arson is such a dangerous and destructive crime that law enforcement takes these matters very seriously and investigators spare no effort to identify and arrest the suspect(s).

The propensity for arson often starts at an early stage. Kids may start fires out of simple curiosity, but that is not always the case. Be particularly alert to any fire-starting activity if the child has had a significant emotional trauma, such as physical or emotional abuse, the loss of a loved one, a divorce or other troubling event. Depending on the circumstances, the child may need counseling and other interventions, but do not assume that they will grow out of it. Many adult arsonists started as children who carried the tendency with them into adulthood.

Statistically, the number of arsons has been declining in California during the last several years, as have many other crimes. Recently, however, the rate for most all crimes is spiking upwards again, and it is reasonable to assume, with the early prison release program and the limited amount of jail space, that the crime of arson will follow suit. Arsons for insurance fraud are not specifically tracked, but I suspect that particular category is also going up as a result of the bad economy of the past several years.

The cost of arsons to society is staggering in terms of property loss and damage, medical costs, increased insurance costs, firefighting systems, the prosecution and incarceration costs of violators and the list goes on. Unlike many other crimes, arson is one that, for certain types of arsonists, early detection and intervention is possible. Kids, in particular, can be steered away from arson through counseling and education. This is not the solution for the full scope of the problem, but it can and will make a difference if parents know how to recognize the potential problem and by acting promptly on it. For the other kinds of arsonists, we have to rely on law enforcement and the criminal justice system to deal with their crimes and prevent them whenever possible. People of the community can also help by always reporting suspicious behaviors to the police and by keeping an eye on their neighborhoods.
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