Arson Content Updated 02/17/06

Definition

The Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program defines arson as any willful or malicious burning or attempting to burn, with or without intent to defraud, a dwelling house public building, motor vehicle or aircraft, personal property of another, etc.

Offense Methodology and Tabular Presentation

According to the UCR Program’s guidelines, only fires that law enforcement investigation determined to have been willfully or maliciously set may be classified as arson. Participating agencies do not report fires of suspicious or unknown origin. Data users should consider several points regarding arson statistics:

However, the UCR Program presents the number of arsons reported by individual law enforcement agencies (Tables 8-11), trend data (Tables 12-15), and arson clearance data (Table 2.31 and Tables 25-28). Appendix I of this publication contains more information about the methodology of individual tables.

Table 2.30

Arson Rate
by Population Group, 2004
[10,142 agencies; 2004 estimated population
215,865,707; rate per 100,000 inhabitants]

Population group Rate
Total 28.2
Total cities 31.2
Group I (cities 250,000 and over) 48.8
  (cities 1,000,000 and over) 42.7
  (cities 500,000 to 999,999) 52.2
  (cities 250,000 to 499,999) 52.9
Group II (cities 100,000 to 249,999) 30.1
Group III (cities 50,000 to 99,999) 26.0
Group IV (cities 25,000 to 49,999) 22.9
Group V (cities 10,000 to 24,999) 18.9
Group VI (cities under 10,000) 22.3
Metropolitan counties 24.1
Nonmetropolitan counties 17.1
Suburban area 1 21.9

1 Suburban area includes law enforcement agencies in
cities with less than 50,000 inhabitants and county law
enforcement agencies that are within a Metropolitan
Statistical Area (see Appendix III). Suburban area
excludes all metropolitan agencies associated with a
principal city. The agencies associated with suburban
areas also appear in other groups within this table.

National Coverage

In 2004, 13,286 agencies (providing 1 to 12 months of data) reported 68,245 arson offenses. Supplemental data, such as the type of structure burned and the estimated dollar loss, were received for 63,215 arsons. (See Table 2.31.) The Program received 12 complete months of arson data from 10,142 agencies representing 73.5 percent of the U.S. population. (See Table 2.30.)

Population Groups: Trends and Rates

The UCR Program aggregates data into population groups; six of these population groups have the city label (based on the number of inhabitants), and two have the county label. Appendix III contains more information about the individual population groups.

Trends

The number of arsons reported in 2004 fell 6.4 percent when compared with 2003 data. Law enforcement agencies in the Nation’s cities collectively reported a 6.8-percent decline in the number of arsons from the 2003 figure. Among the population groups labeled city, those with 100,000 to 249,999 inhabitants had the largest year-to-year decrease in reported arsons, 11.1 percent; cities with populations of less than 10,000 had the smallest decrease in reported arsons, 0.5 percent. Agencies in the Nation’s metropolitan counties had a 5.8-percent decrease in the number of arsons; and those in nonmetropolitan counties, a 3.5-percent decline. (See Table 12.)

Rates

Arson rates were based on information received from 10,142 agencies that provided 12 months of complete arson data to the UCR Program. An examination of data from those agencies indicated that in 2004, the highest rate—48.8 arsons per 100,000 inhabitants—was reported in the Nation’s largest cities, those with 250,000 or more inhabitants. Cities with 10,000 to 24,999 residents had the lowest arson rate, 18.9 per 100,000 in population. Metropolitan counties had 24.1 arsons per 100,000 inhabitants, and nonmetropolitan counties had 17.1 arsons per 100,000 inhabitants, the lowest of all the population groups. (See Table 2.30.)

Table 2.31: Arson by Type of Property, 2004

Offense Analysis

The UCR Program breaks down arson offenses into three property categories: structural, mobile, and other. In addition, the structural property type is comprised of seven types of structures, and the mobile property type consists of two subgroupings. The Program also collects information on the estimated dollar value of the damaged property.

Property Type

The number of arsons decreased for all three property types in 2004 compared with the 2003 number, particularly for the mobile type, which dropped 13.1 percent from the prior year’s figure. Arsons of structural property decreased 3.9 percent, and arsons of other property types declined 2.9 percent. (See Table 15.)

Distributions by Property Type

In 2004, arsons of structures accounted for 44.6 percent of all arsons. Of those, 62.2 percent involved residential properties. Of the residential arsons, most (72.8 percent) were single-occupancy residences such as houses, townhouses, duplexes, etc. Mobile arsons accounted for 30.2 percent of all arsons. Within this category, 94.7 percent of the offenses involved the burning of motor vehicles. Other types of property, such as crops, timber, fences, etc., comprised 25.2 percent of reported arson offenses. (See Table 2.31.)

Dollar Loss

In monetary terms, the average dollar loss in 2004 for an arson was $12,017. The average dollar loss for a structural arson was $22,071. Mobile property had an average dollar loss of $6,382. Other property types had an average dollar loss of $1,705. (See Table 2.31.)

Within the structural arson category, the industrial/manufacturing subcategory had the highest average dollar loss at $92,201. Within that same category, single-occupancy dwellings had an average dollar loss of $21, 819. Other residential dwellings had an average dollar loss of $21,959. (See Table 2.31.)

Clearances

In the UCR Program, law enforcement agencies may clear an offense by the arrest of at least one person or by exceptional means. An agency may clear an offense by exceptional means if some force outside the agency’s control prohibits the arrest of the individual. Section III provides additional information regarding clearances by exceptional means.

Overall in 2004, law enforcement agencies cleared 17.1 percent of arson offenses by arrest or exceptional means. Among the four regions by which the UCR Program aggregates clearance data, law enforcement agencies in the Northeast cleared the highest percentage of arson offenses, 21.5 percent, occurring in that region. Agencies in the South cleared 18.8 percent of arsons by arrest or exceptional means. Fifteen percent of arson offenses (the lowest percentage) were cleared in the Midwest as well as in the West. (See Table 26.)

An examination of the data collected about arson clearances by population groups indicated that law enforcement agencies in the Nation’s smallest cities (under 10,000 in population) and in nonmetropolitan counties cleared the highest percentage of their arsons, 26.7 and 24.3 percent, respectively. The largest cities (250,000 and over in population) and metropolitan counties cleared their reported arsons at 10.0 and 17.8 percent, respectively. (See Table 25.)

Clearances by Property Type

A review of the 2004 data from 13,205 agencies that provided supplemental information concerning arsons showed that 21.2 percent of structural arson offenses were cleared by arrest or exceptional means. Slightly more than 7 percent (7.1) of mobile arson offenses and 20.1 percent of other arson crimes were cleared by arrest or exceptional means. (See Table 2.31.)

Clearances and Juveniles

Juvenile clearances are reported when a person under the age of 18 is cited to appear in a juvenile court or is turned over to another juvenile authority; it is not necessary for an arrest actually to occur. According to the UCR Program’s definitions, when a law enforcement agency clears a crime involving both juveniles and adults, the agency classifies the action as an adult clearance. A juvenile clearance is recorded only when the crime involves only juveniles.

During 2004, clearances of juveniles for the offense of arson were proportionally higher than for any other crime. Nearly 43 percent (42.7) of arson clearances nationwide involved only juveniles. A breakdown of the data by population groups showed that among the Nation’s cities, collectively, juvenile clearances accounted for 46.9 percent of all arson clearances. Of all the population groups, cities with populations of 100,000 to 249,999 inhabitants had the highest percentage of their arson clearances involving only juveniles, 51.5 percent. Agencies in nonmetropolitan counties had the lowest percentage of their arson clearances involving only juveniles, 26.1 percent. In the country’s metropolitan counties, 35.5 percent of arson clearances involved only juveniles. (See Table 28.)

Juvenile Clearances by Property Type

Of the clearances for structural arsons, 40.2 percent involved only juveniles. Of those, the majority (76.3 percent) involved community or public buildings such as churches, jails, schools, etc. Twenty-one percent of clearances for mobile arsons and 53.5 percent of other property type arsons involved only juveniles. (See Table 2.31.)

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Table 2.31

Arson
by Type of Property, 2004
[13,205 agencies; 2004 estimated population 233,208,779]

Property classification Number of offenses Percent distribution 1 Percent not in use Average damage Total clearances Percent of offenses cleared 2 Percent of clearances under 18
Total 63,215 100.0 $12,017 10,548 16.7 41.8
Total structure: 28,202 44.6 17.9 22,071 5,983 21.2 40.2
  Single occupancy residential 12,758 20.2 21.1 21,819 2,629 20.6 28.5
  Other residential 4,773 7.6 13.6 21,959 976 20.4 28.9
  Storage 1,902 3.0 18.8 18,246 344 18.1 46.5
  Industrial/manufacturing 287 0.5 21.6 92,201 53 18.5 35.8
  Other commercial 2,700 4.3 13.0 45,754 424 15.7 27.4
  Community/public 3,246 5.1 11.5 10,573 1,084 33.4 76.3
  Other structure 2,536 4.0 22.6 9,121 473 18.7 53.5
Total mobile: 19,088 30.2 6,382 1,359 7.1 21.0
  Motor vehicles 18,070 28.6 6,179 1,203 6.7 19.5
  Other mobile 1,018 1.6 10,046 156 15.3 32.7
Other 15,925 25.2   1,705 3,206 20.1 53.5

1 Because of rounding, the percentages may not add to 100.0
2 Includes offenses cleared by arrest or exceptional means.