Juveniles account for 40 percent of arson arrests, report says

Juveniles account for 40 percent of arson arrests, report says

Four of every 10 people arrested for arson in 1986 were juveniles, according to the National Fire Protection Association’s annual arson study.

Young firesetters were active in 1986, the study says; 1 of every 15 people arrested for arson—or 6.6 percent—was under the age of 10. Arson was the leading crime for children 10 and under, according to the Uniform Crime Reports compiled by the FBI, followed by vandalism at 3.2 percent.

People who regularly deal with child firesetters aren’t surprised at the findings, and say that the numbers could actually be significantly higher.

Jerold Bills, coordinator of the Rochester (N.Y.) Fire Department’s Fire Related Youth program, says fires set by children often aren’t recorded as arson.

Another problem, he says, is that there’s no central data gathering source on juvenile firesetting. “We know it’s higher than numbers say. When I tell people that in Rochester, a city of about 250,000, we have about 300 juvenile firesetters in a year, they think that’s an inordinate number. But it’s really that we’re doing better detective work,” Bills says.

When a Montgomery County (Md.) task force studied arson in the early 1980s, it found that 70 percent of those arrested for arson were under 18. The county established Operation Extinguish: Juvenile firesetters are formally charged and given the option of going through the court system or enrolling in the program, which encompasses fire safety education, recreation, and family evaluation.

“I think we have to take a hard look at the problem and then take a strong stance,” says Mary Marchone, fire education specialist for the Montgomery County Department of Fire and Rescue Sendees. “First and second grade is not too soon to explain what arson is.”

The NFPA’s annual arson report also found:

  • Incendiary and suspicious structure fires in 1986, at 111,000, were down 5 percent from the previous year.
  • Arson fires in vehicles were up 25 percent, causing more than $151 million in property damage.
  • Nearly 18 percent of arson offenses in 1986 were cleared by police.
  • One third of incendiary and suspicious structure fires were in dwellings and mobile homes.

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