Spotlight: Arson Offences

6.1 Introduction and scope

In the year ending 30 September 2016, Victoria Police recorded 4,480 arson offences across the state, an offence rate of 74.0 offences per 100,000 people in Victoria. In five years the number of arson offences has increased by 33.6 per cent, up from 3,354 offences in the year ending 30 September 2012. In the last five years the cost of damage due to arson offences exceeded $119 million, as recorded by Victoria Police members, with more than $19 million of this recorded in the last 12 months.

Data for this spotlight has been extracted from the Victoria Police Law Enforcement Assistance Program on 18 October 2016 and reflects criminal offences and alleged offender incidents based on crime recorded by Victoria Police. The data covers a five year period from October 2011 to September 2016.

Arson offences are defined as any offence recorded in LEAP that has been coded to the CSA offence classification category “B10 Arson”, and includes the following offence groups:

  • B11 Cause damage by fire
  • B12 Cause a bushfire
  • B19 Other fire related offences

6.2 Prevalence of arson offences

 

 

Oct 2013 – Sept 2014

Oct 2014 – Sept 2015

Oct 2015 – Sept 2016

% change 2015 - 2016

Number of arson offences

3,544

3,396

4,480

31.9%

Offence rate per 100,000 population

60.7

57.2

74.0

29.4%

Alleged offender incidents

1,065

1,068

1,397

30.8%

Offender incident rate per 100,000 population

18.2

18.0

23.1

28.3%

 
In the year ending 30 September 2016, there were 4,480 arson offences recorded. Cause damage by fire comprised 76.3 per cent of all arson offences, with Other fire related offences and Cause a bushfire offences making up 18.7 and 5.1 per cent respectively. While Cause a bushfire offences only made up 5.1 per cent of all arson offences in the last 12 months, the number of these offences more than doubled compared to the same time last year, up 129.3 per cent from 99 to 227.

There were 1,397 alleged offender incidents with a principal offence of arson, an increase of 30.8 per cent (n=329). The offender incident rate per 100,000 people is 23.1, a 28.3 per cent increase compared to the same period last year.

Arson offences recorded by offence group, October 2013 to September 2016

6.3 Trends over time

The graph below shows the number of arson offences recorded each quarter from October 2011 to September 2016.

Number of arson offences recorded, October 2011 to September 2016

Over the past five years, the number of arson offences has fluctuated. The year ending 30 September 2013 saw an increase, which was followed by decreases over the next two reference periods to levels similar to the year ending 30 September 2012. After two years of decreases, arson offences have again increased to their highest point in five years in the year ending 30 September 2016.

6.4 Location of arson offences and types or property burnt

Of the 4,480 arson offences that were recorded in the year ending 30 September 2016, 29.5 per cent (n=1,323) took place at a residential location, 56.1 per cent (n=2,515) were recorded at a community location, and 10.3 per cent (n=462) at an other location, with the remaining 4.0 per cent (n=180) having a missing or unknown location type. Of the 2,515 that took place at a community location, 1,246 (49.5%) occurred in open space, and 843 (33.5%) offences occurred on a street or footpath.

Vehicles were the most common type of property burnt, with 1,312 vehicles recorded as burnt as a result of arson offences in the last 12 months. Vehicles made up 30.1 per cent of all property items burnt in the year to 30 September 2016, with the next highest proportion being trees or grass making up a further 16.8 per cent (n=735) of property burnt. There were also 690 unknown burnt items recorded by Victoria Police in the last 12 months.

6.5 Arson offences across Victoria

The North West Metro region has consistently had the highest number of arson offences, however the Western region has consistently had the highest rate per 100,000 population. In 2016, the Local Government Areas with the highest number of recorded offences were Hume (n=592), Greater Geelong (n=240), Casey (n=217), Ballarat (n=168) and Latrobe (n=150).

Arson offence rate per 100,000 by Local Government Area, October 2015 to September 2016

Accounting for population figures, the Local Government Areas across Victoria with the highest rate of arson offences per 100,000 population were Hume (297.2), Pyrenees (275.3), Northern Grampians (240.2), Central Goldfields (212.1) and Latrobe (203.0).

The five suburbs with the nighest number of arson offences recorded in the last 12 months were Dallas [1] (n=289), Craigieburn (n=67), Broadmeadows (n=53), Morwell (n=52) and Ballarat (n=47).

6.6 Investigation status of recorded offences

 

Investigation status

Oct – Sept 2012

Oct – Sept 2013

Oct – Sept 2014

Oct – Sept 2015

Oct – Sept 2016

Arrest

372

387

364

474

862

Summons

236

387

473

448

474

Caution

97

113

89

79

79

Other[2]

62

88

58

54

63

Intent to Summons

141

210

238

184

199

Unsolved

2,446

2,656

2,322

2,157

2,803

Total

3,354

3,841

3,544

3,396

4,480

 

Of the 4,480 recorded arson offences, 62.6 per cent (n=2,803) remained unsolved as at 18 October 2016 when the data was extracted. 19.2 per cent (n=862) had resulted in an arrest and 10.6 per cent (n=474) of offences resulted in a summons being issued.

6.7 Alleged offender incidents

In the year ending 30 September 2016, there were 1,397 recorded alleged offender incidents with a principal offence of arson. This was an increase of 30.8 per cent (n=329) from the year ending 30 September 2015.

Of the 1,397 alleged offender incidents, 85.5 per cent (n=1,194) involved a male offender while 13.1 per cent (n=183) involved a female offender. The remaining incidents involved an offender with an unknown sex.

Alleged offender incidents by sex and age, October 2015 to September 2016

Of the 1,194 male offenders, the largest age group was 15 – 19 years which accounted for 20.5 per cent of all male offenders. The next highest age groups were 10 – 14 years (n=169) and 20 – 24 years (n=168).

Of the 183 female offenders, the count of alleged offender incidents was spread across all age groups. The largest age group was also 15 – 19 years which accounted for 15.8 per cent (n=29) of female offenders.

As at 18 October 2016, 68.7 per cent (n=960) of alleged offender incidents had resulted in an arrest or summons, while 23.0 per cent (n=322) had resulted in an intent to summons and 8.2 per cent (n=115) offenders were issued with a caution or warning.

6.8 Offending patterns of arson offenders

There are differences in the nature and type of offending behaviour when analysing patterns for those who committed arson offences in the last 12 months. Of the 1,147 unique offenders who committed arson offences in the last 12 months, for 27.1 per cent (n=311) of offenders, this was their only offence recorded in the past 10 years. Of these offenders, 86.8 per cent were male, and 25.1 per cent were aged between 10 and 19, whilst the mean offender age was 39.5.

The remaining 72.9 per cent (n=836) of arson offenders had committed more than one offence in the past 10 years. These offenders were placed into three offending categories:

  • exclusive (offenders who had a history of arson related offences only);
  • predominant (offenders who had more arson offences in their history than other offences); or
  • mixed (offenders who had more non-arson offences, or an equal number of arson and non-arson offences in their history) (Ducat et at, 2013).

The largest proportion of offenders had a mixed offending history, with 93.3 per cent (n=780) of the 836 offenders with more than one offence, falling into this category. These offenders had a range of other offences including a high proportion of theft, burglary and property damage offences. Of the offenders with more than one offence in their history, 29 offenders (3.5%) were in the predominant category, and 27 (3.2%) were exclusive arson offenders.

Exclusive arson offenders were more likely to be older than the other two groups, with a mean age of 34.0 compared to 23.1 and 26.8 in the mixed and predominant groups respectively.

Unique arson offenders by offending category and mean age, October 2015 to September 2016

Mixed offenders recorded the highest number of incidents, with a median incident count of 15, compared to 4 for predominant offenders and 2 for offenders in the exclusive category.

6.9 Characteristics of bushfire offenders

In the last 12 months there were 46 unique offenders apprehended by police for bushfire offences. Of these offenders, more than half (n=26) were known to police for prior offending before committing their bushfire offence, and 16 had previously committed an arson or criminal damage offence before causing a bushfire.

Bushfire offenders were predominantly male, making up 91.3 per cent (n=42) of all offenders, and 56.5 per cent (n=26) were aged between 10 and 19, with the mean age of 23.6.

References

Ducat, L., McEwan, T., and Ogloff, J. (2013). Comparing the characteristics of firesetting and non-firesetting offenders: are firesettters a special case? The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology, 24(5), pp.549-569.

 

[1] Note that the number of offences in Dallas increased in the last 12 months due to one incident of arson where there were 256 offences recorded.

[2] The category 'Other' includes caution not authorised, complaint withdrawn, notice to appear, no offence disclosed, not authorised, offender processed, warrant issued, summons not authorised, presentment and other statuses

 

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