Arson for hire
Arson is among the most serious threats posed to the the contemporary world. With an ever increasing intensity of arson cases, even the super power like the U.S. is not free from its clutches. According to the studies of United States Fire Administration done in the year 2005, about 267,000 of fires are a result of arson acts (Boberg: 2006, p.34). The paper ‘Arson for Fire’ delves into the understanding of arson and its elucidation in the light of major cases involving intentional fire-raising.
The paper introduces the idea of Arson by distinguishing it from a common fire-raising incident and provides a classification of arson cases on the basis of different dimensions that involve age, number of people and the involvement of their will. Since the concept of hired arson comes under the heading of the last categorization, the paper succinctly discusses the other possible types of arsons (like direct arson ad indirect arson etc) and profoundly explains the case of hired and non hired arson with the former being its cynosure.
The major cases of hired arson are pointed out on the basis of the motives of the hiring parties. The paper ends with a note of complexities involved in the determination of arson cases and the implications of such devastating acts.
Among a never ending list of domestic crimes, Arson is reckoned as one of the highest growing misdemeanours in the contemporary world. As proved by the facts provided by Arson Prevention Bureau, in a decade starting from 1993 to 2003 the arson of buildings has increased by 17% and that of road vehicles has aggrandized by 56%. Carrington in his article Group Crime in Canada has included arson in the list of ‘more serious crimes’ similar to those of homicide, murder attempts and drug offences etc (2002, p.277). To elucidate various cases of Arson, it is mandatory to comprehend the concept of the concerned property crime. Arson is an intentional act of setting a property on fire. This property may range from shops, automobiles and buildings etc. Arson is also defined as ‘as the malicious or fraudulent burning of property. As an example, a fire in a fireplace is considered a constructive fire: it is built to provide warmth and comfort. However, a fire set in a pile of leaves by a group of children is a malicious fire, as is a fire set by a business owner in the back of his store to collect on an insurance policy’ (5). Any type of fire-raising cannot be considered as something devoid of arson since it is the presence of will and intention that changes a common fire raising event into a case of arson. According to Hartmut Grupp, head of the technical group for corrosion, fuels and fires at the Allianz Center for Technology, “Around one third of all fire damage can be linked to arson (2002).”
Difference between Accidental fire and Arson:
Since the border line between arson and accidental fire-raising is very vague, different laws have drawn a limpid distinction between the two cases. For instance Scotland’s Criminal Damage Act 1971 includes cases under wilful fire rising. According to this Act passed in the year 1971, an arsonist is any person who destroys or damages any property (whether it belongs to himself or any other person) without any legal excuse and with a serious motive of either harming human life or material property (Prins: 2005, p.246).
Classification of Arson:
Arson can be classified into multiple classes depending upon the dimension forming the basis of the schism. For instance, the act of arson can be classified in terms of the number of its perpetrators. If this property crime is committed by a single person, it may be termed as an individual arson whereas the crime is group arson if committed by gangs and groups of several people. On the other hand, arson can also be divided on the basis of the age of the arsonists (people who commit the crime of arson are called arsonists). This dimension of classification brings two subtypes into light. These two types are Child Arson and Young Adult Arson. The first category includes arson acts by children less than sixteen years of age. According to the studies of Australian Institute of Criminology done in the year 2007, twenty percent of the fires were raised by children in Australia. Lambie, McCardle and Coleman in their article ‘Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire: Firesetting Behaviour in Children and Adolescents’ classify the children arsons to have four types. They involve Curiosity fire setters (who encounter fire pertaining activities as an accident and experiment with fire out of curiosity), Pathological fire setters (who deliberately fire the property with an intention of destroying it and repeat the process over and again), Cry for help fire setters (who set the property afire in order to attract the attention of adults. Such tendency is considered to develop in the stressful times of a child’s life) and Delinquent fire setters (who fire the property as a sign of their antisocial attitude towards the community in which they live) (2002). The second category of arsons based on age entails people from youngsters above sixteen to adults as old as forty years or even older (Prins: 1994). According to the studies of Zandt last year, about fifty percent of the arsonists are individuals under eighteen years. In the words of Dr Toni Makkai, Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology,
“Of all of the crimes committed by young people, arson is potentially one of the most devastating (2007).”
Although in rare case scenarios, arsons are also divided on the basis of the sexes of the arsonists. In such a categorization the number of female arsonist is considerably lower than that of the male arsonists. Another significant categorization of arson cases can be drawn on the basis of forces behind the crime. This brings forth the discussion of hired arson acts and non hired arson acts. In hired arson acts, the individuals are hired by the other forces to carry out the task for the accomplishment of their malicious purposes. In the case of non hired arsons, the arsonists fire the property in order to accomplish their own motives. The motives of both the hiring party and that of the arsonists overlap in many cases.
Motivations behind Arson:
“Determination of motive is key to any criminal investigation (Zandt: 2007).”
Arsonists are hired for a variety of objectives to be achieved. Prins in ‘Fire-Raising: Its Motivation and Management’ provides a detailed analysis of cases by narrowing down the motives into the categories like (a) revenge; (b) excitement fire-setting; (c) institutionalised fire-setters; (d) insurance claim fire-setters and (e) arson to cover up another crime ( 1994, p.38). Prins also gives an account of Faulk’s study that broadly classifies two types of arson motivations in which the first type falls for the cases where fire is used as a tool for complete destruction. In the second case, the fire is used as an object of interest and attraction (1994, p.40).
“Economic gain is a common motive for arson (…) For the individual who actually sets the fire, the gain may be in the form of a fee for service (ABA: 1983, p. 4).”
Prins also provides the division on the basis of the studies of imprisoned arsonists. The classification involves arson committed for various purposes. Among these purposes, there are a few that are more rational for the cases of hired arsons. These objectives involve arson to gain financial aid, to hide another crime, to achieve political objectives, to avenge (a single individual or a group of people) and to seek others’ attention (1994, p. 40)
Major Cases of Hired Arson:
Arson cases as a result of hired individuals who commit the crime comprise of a vast variety of scenarios depending on the motivation of the people who hire such arsonists. Of all the motivations, there is one key reason behind hired arson which is the financial needs of the people who are exploited in the hands of the hiring parties. Different analysts of arson cases have elucidated the following purposes as the most frequent motivations behind the hired arson acts.
(a) Hiring Arsonists for Vindictive Purposes:
Vindication driven arsons are often tracked on the basis of forensic evidence. According to the studies of Al Baik, arsons done for the purpose of revenge often show an intention of destroying the property as much as possible (2006). Similar to the individual behaviours, organizations often develop revengeful professional relations with other organizations that may lead to the hiring of arsonists for debilitating the reputation of the rivalries in the market.
(b) Hiring Arsonists for Political Purposes:
When talking about hiring arsonists for political purposes, frequently there occurs either of the two types of scenarios. In the first instance the political parties hire arsonists to burn down the property of the rival party in order to give them a financial set back and debilitate their reputation in the eyes of the public. In the second case scenario, the arsonists are hired to destroy the property which is further used as the object of activist acts of the concerned political party for their publicity (Prins:1994, p.44).
(c) Self Arson:
Al Baik points out a unique scenario of arson where the individuals or organizations burn down their own property in order to manipulate the law of insurance claim (2006). Although such cases are rare, both the companies and individuals do hire people for carrying out such fire raising tasks.
(d) Hiring Arsonists for Concealing Crimes:
It is another rare case scenario in which some of the employees of the company hire arsonists to carry out the property destruction act in order to get rid of the liability documents that may be used against them in future (Al Baik: 2006). By hiring arsonists, the incident is given a shape of an accidental fire thereby leaving little if any room for suspicion. Another case of hiding crime is that of murders when the DNA evidence is tried to be destroyed by the use of fire on the behalf of hired arsonists (Prins: 2005, p. 250).
(e) Hiring Arsonists for Civil Unrest:
Arsonists are often hired by the hostile agents to create turbulence within a region by igniting flames against any particular group which is misperceived to be done by the other group thereby leading to a never ending process of vindication. Such a situation exacerbates the over all repute of groups and their region in the international scenario. For instance in the late twentieth century’s burning of churches in the black community, the arson acts came up much to the chagrin of many whites. Fletcher points out the observation of a white resident of Lane, South Carolina, who said, “People are acting differently, talking differently. You can’t pinpoint it, but you can tell the good relations are dwindling away” (Carter: 1999).
(f) Hiring Arsonists for Achieving Ideological Goals:
Although seemingly an indirect approach towards the arson motivation, arsonists are often hired by various organizations to achieve their ideological gains. For instance, Baltimore of the U.S. faced the challenge of arson at the end of the year 2004. The early speculations of the case hinted the involvement of environmentalists who were against increasing housing development as it proves to be a constant threat to the quality of the environment. Whosoever the force may be behind the devastation of housing development in the suburban Washington, there was a suspicion about the involvement of a security guard who was arrested with a doubt to have been hired by the ring main leader (9).
(g) Hiring Arsonists as a means of Looting:
Arson cases also emerge out as a result of the happenings in the political world. For instance, after the death of former prime minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, several rioters burnt down public property as a reactionary measure. According to Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema, such mass rioting resulted in the arson of about 176 banks, 72 train cars and 18 rail stations (Dawn: 2007). But seemingly a reactionary act of a political leader’s demise, the evidence of looting before blazing the property pointed out the intentions of a particular group of people trying to exploit public property.
Non Hired Arson:
Non hired arson, when the sole force behind the criminal act is the arsonist’s own will, takes place under a variety of circumstances. These driving forces involve mental disorders that may be actual or associated. These categories further include the organic disorders like brain tumour, temporal lobe epilepsy and disturbed metabolic processes etc. Another instance of non hired arson is the achievement of excitement. When seen as a case of deriving sexual pleasure, it is also known as Pyromania driven arson (1994, p.40). The arson cases which have proven to have child perpetrators behind do not show a presence of financial gain rather a deviant behaviour with multiple diagnostic interpretations in the background. According to FBI crime data, in the year 1994, 55% of the arson cases resulted in the arrests of either adolescent or child perpetrators in the United States. Although some of the motives of hired arsons overlap with that of the non hired arsons (as in the case of revenge, hostility, envy and domestic or public violence etc.), there are certain cases of arson in which there is no rational reason or motive behind the act of arsonists. Such cases call for the psychological and pathological explanation of the arsons and arsonists. For instance, a student of Virginia Tech University was indicted for committing the arson of a building in the year 2007 (Black: 2007). The act of 23 years old Robert Lawson had no logical explanation behind destroying the whole building. Some of the most frequent cases of such non hired arsons are as follows,
(a) Arson due to Mental Disorder:
According to the studies of Prins, most of the arsonists show the presence of schizophrenic disorder. An evidence of this assumption is made by an example from the early nineteenth century. Jonathan Martin fired York Minster and the investigations in his case revealed the existence of mental disorder (2005, p. 252).
(b) Arson due to Organic Disorder:
Murphy and Clare in their studies showed a relationship of language learning disability to the potential of committing arson. Prins in his book ‘Offenders, Deviants or Patients?’ has used the very study to consider organic disorder as a factor behind the non hired arson cases. He is of the view that the brain injuries often causes the lack of consciousness that entails such arson acts (2005, p. 252).
(c) Arson due to Pyromania:
Pyromania is a state in which the arsonists derive pathological pleasure as a result of blazing properties. One such pleasure may be in the form of setting things on fire and then calling the fire brigades for help (Prins: 2005, p.253). According to the studies of Social Issues Reference, such kind of non hired arsons are normally committed by teenagers who are either bored and want a thrilling phase in life or the patients of ‘Hero Syndrome’. Setting fire first and later spotting it out as an accidental incident satisfies their desire to be appreciated in public.
Techniques of Arson:
Whether the arson is hired or non hired, there are always certain ways of carrying out the crime. Arsons are also classified on the basis of the techniques they employ while carrying out the arson. Al Baik points out two different techniques of carrying out arson. The first one is the direct method. As clear by the term, in such cases the property is directly exposed to any ignition device thereby producing a great fire in a matter of few minutes. In such cases, it is difficult for the arsonist to escape the crime scene as the fire ascends very rapidly. In the case of indirect means, the arsonists use such electrical, mechanical or chemical devices that spark fire after a certain amount of time thereby letting the arsonist an ample time to escape the crime scene (2006). The nature of arson technique also depends largely on the kind of weapon used to set any property on fire. Satterfield in an article has given brief information gathered from an arrested arsonist. According to this article, the arsonist who had been involved in setting forests and other property afire believed that candles were the best devices for indirect fire-raising as they help in delaying the fire’s outburst from hours to days (2007).
Complexities about Arson Cases:
“Arson has always been a particularly challenging crime to fire service providers, police and prosecutors. Its work demands are high and unpleasant, and the success rates low ( ABA: 1983. p.6).”
Unlike the majority of crimes, arson is an offence difficult to be traced since the presence or absence of intention behind a blazing building is an obscure decision to be made. For the very reason the investigations of fire-raising is considered as an extremely critical issue. It is because of this reason that a seemingly accidental fire is also suspected to be a deliberate work by arsonists in the background. For instance in October 2007, a wildfire ascending across 450,000 acres of the U.S. not only burnt down around 1600 houses but also resulted in seven casualties. In such a case the joint investigation team of ATF National response Team, FBI Evidence Response Teams, and state and local law enforcement agents significantly considered the possibility of arsonists as the cause of the fire. Similarly, in the case of Santiago blaze that spread across 20,000 acres was investigated to have three points of origin which clearly showed the presence of arsonists behind the gruesome devastation that superficially appeared to be an accidental event (Zandt: 2007). For the very delicacy pertaining to arson, the investigation of fire-raising cases is two fold. In the first step, the investigators try to trace the point of origin of fire whereas the second step leads to the knowledge about the cause of fire. Burnette and Esquire propose twenty ‘red flags’ of an arson investigation. By red flag, they refer to any suspicious circumstance around the fire loss that may be used as a way of identifying the fire to be accidental or deliberate and helps in bringing the arsonists to justice. Some of these red flags include a case of over-insured property or duplicate insurance, fire raised in an odd hour like midnight and too much cooperative or too much hostile attitude of the insured etc. (Interfire Online)
Impacts of Arson:
“The cost from such fires can be measured in terms of emotional and social effects, along with financial consequences (Lambie, McCardle & Coleman: 2002).”
One of the major aftermaths of arson is the financial losses faced in the form of devastation of the property. For instance, in Australia between 1987 and 1994 children arsonists caused a loss of about $24 million (Australian Institute of Criminology: 2007). Similarly, the Santiago fire is estimated to cause the loss of about $10 million in damage (CBS News: 2008). Human loss is yet another grisly implication of the arson acts. One of the most tragic cases in the arson history is that of a young arsonist who started arsonist activities from the age of five years. It was in December 1958 that he fired down a school building in Chicago resulting in the death of ninety two students and three nuns (Boberg: 2006, p.1). Generally, the victims of arsons are not only the people present at the location at the time of fire but are often the fire fighters trying to evacuate building in the clutches of ascending blaze. When buildings like museums and public libraries are set afire, the loss is not just confined to the financial aspect since the cultural loss is far more devastating. Another negative implication of arson is the rising hostility between the groups that may be in the form of racial, religious or ethnic communities. For instance the church burnings in the African American communities of the United States resulted in exacerbating the relations between whites and blacks. The burnings of churches was reckoned by the blacks to be more than just the burning of worship places but a whole act of racial discrimination (book )5. Such a civil unrest was also witnessed in the year 2005 as a result of the murder of two teenagers in France by the French police. Considered to involve the most horrible arson acts since 1968, the three months long riots resulted in the devastation of innumerable vehicle and buildings (Wikipedia: 2008).
Victims of Arson:
The devastating activities of arsonists pose a threat to the people belonging to all the walks of life however the risks are higher for certain people than for others. According to the analysis of Arson Protection Bureau, most of the fire rising incidents of shops and stores are done deliberately (2003). Educational buildings are no less affected by the arson cases as it is proved by the arson crime done by a student of Virginia Tech University in the year 2007. In the same way when arson cases are done to set forest afire, the fire ascends to an uncontrollable extent thereby destroying the domestic properties in its blaze. On the other hand, the business companies are equally prone to arson cases which are normally committed to conceal the legal liabilities against any certain group of employees. Apart from the material losses, the victims also suffer problems that are particular to the case of arson. For instance, in most cases of arson the victims are not even cognizant of the fact that they have been made a victim of an intentional crime done by an arsonist (ABA: 1983, p.6).
Management of Arson Cases:
Appearing to be an incorrigible problem of the contemporary world, arson cases can be reduced if dealt with strategy. Arson Protection Bureau suggests a list of measures that may be taken in order to avoid the increasing risks of arson in covered buildings. These measures involve the confinement of entrance and exit spots to as little as possible however this limiting should not be done to an extent of locking up the fire exits. Vigilance around the people entering into the buildings should be made sure. The individuals who are the part of the building’s administration or staff should be trained in such a way that they are cautious of any suspicious behaviour happening in their surrounding and should be able to report them as soon as possible. Extinguishers and fire detectors should also be checked intermittently in order to avoid any disaster in case of emergency. In the end, the over all inspection of the building should be made possible in order to keep a check of the internal premises of the building (2003).
“In recent years, concern about the increase in arson has been noted on a worldwide basis (Prins: 2005, p.246).”
Keeping under consideration the increasing incidents of arson, today various steps have been taken by different countries to debilitate the increasing strength of arsonists. For instance, National Arson Prevention Initiative Program started in the U.S.A. in 1997 in order to lessen down the 750 fatalities and over $2 billion caused by arson that year (The Washington Times: 1997). However the rising number of hired arsons suggests that unless the economic downfall of the individuals is not stabilized, the trend towards hired arsons would continue to grow.
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