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The use of profiling in bushfire arson : part 2 : vandalism and excitement

Bushfire arson bulletin no. 27

ISSN 1832-2743
Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology, December 2005

Based on similarities in traits, behaviours and attributes, the FBI (Douglas et al. 1992) and National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (Sapp et al. n.d.) have developed offender profiles for specific arson motives. No single offender is likely to display all of these characteristics, but it is likely that many of the attributes, traits and behaviours listed below will be present within bushfire arsonists lighting fires on the basis of these motives.

Vandalism-motivatedExcitement-motivated
Fire lit with the motive of wilful, mischievous, wanton destruction; often result of boredom or frustration The excitement motivated arsonist seeks thrills (T-type), attention (A-type) or recognition (R-type)
Male, juvenile - young adult Usually male, juvenile
Usually multiple offenders Multiple offenders rare
Uses available materials, matches/cigarette lighters Uses available materials; matches/cigarette lighters. Serial R-type: may use incendiary devices and time delays
Spontaneous/disorganised Serial T-type commonly leaves matches at scene
Opportunist; won't break into buildings to light fires Serial T-type: target selection premeditated/planned; cause major conflagrations; Serial A-type: minimum damage targets; Serial R-type: nuisance type fires, variable locations
Lower-middle socioeconomic status Lower-middle socioeconomic status
Poor school performance; average - below average intelligence 10 years+ formal education; unemployed; Serial R-type have highest overall education
Fire set within one mile from home/base; familiar surrounds Generally walks to scene; typically less than 1-2 miles; familiar location
Lives with father and mother in single-family housing; serial vandalism motivated arsonists often have long history of institutionalisation Serial T-type: commonly have extensive history of institutionalisation; emotionally inadequate
Prior contact with police/fire department Prevalent contact with police/fire department, felony arrest record; little consideration given to getting caught; would do it anyway. Serial T-type prolific - may light more than 50 fires before being caught
Usually flees scene and does not return; if they return, usually views out of sight or from a safe distance Serial T-type: leaves scene, views from elsewhere; Serial A-type & R-type may remain. All subgroups generally return within 24 hours; Serial R-type often actively participates in reporting or fighting the fire. May be affiliated with public safety organisation
For serial arsonists frequency will probably remain relatively stable, but severity may increase over time Serial offenders common; frequency may increase - severity is almost certain to increase over time

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