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Introduction

Purpose of Study

This research study is part of a series of studies conducted by the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC) located at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. The NCAVC was established as a law enforcement oriented behavioral science and data processing center designed to consolidate research, training, investigative and operational support functions for the purpose of providing expertise to any legitimate law enforcement agency confronted with unusual, bizarre and/or repetitive violent crime. The staff of the Center is joined by faculty from major universities, members of the mental health and medical professions, and other law enforcement representatives (NCAVC, 1992).

In 1986, a subunit was established within the Center to study arson and bombings. Representatives from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms joined the Center staff to serve in the Arson and Bombing Investigative Services Subunit (ABIS). This arrangement is based upon a concurrent investigative responsibility with the FBI in these areas. The subunit has conducted a series of studies on arson and serial arsonists (See Icove and Estepp, 1987; Icove and Gilman, 1989; Icove and Horbert, 1990; Sapp, Gary, Huff and James, 1993a; see also Douglas, Burgess, Burgess and Ressler, 1992). Services provided by the ABIS to other Federal, State, local and foreign law enforcement agencies include advice on investigative techniques and strategies, interviewing strategies, and prosecutoral analyses.

Statement of Problem

This study was undertaken as part of the research and investigative support functions of the Arson and Bombing Investigative Subunit (ABIS). The study arose from an awareness of the extent of serial arson in the United States. Serial arson is an offense committed by firesetters who set three or more fires with a significant cooling off period between the fires (Douglas, et al, 1992). Arson is a violent crime, often taking the lives of innocent people, while also causing tremendous financial losses in property. According to the Uniform Crime Reports produced by the FBI (1992), arsons in 1991 exceeded one billion dollars in property loss. Arson is the second leading cause of deaths in residential fires (Federal Emergency Management Agency, 1988). Despite the huge losses in property and the deaths caused by arson, relatively little research has been conducted on arsonists. Most of the available research is in the form of clinical studies of very small numbers of arsonists. (See Geller, 1992 for an extensive review of the literature on arson studies in forensic psychiatry). This study is intended to fill some of the gaps in knowledge about arsonists, particularly the serial arsonists.

 
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