Australian Institute of Criminology

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Using crime prevention to reduce deliberate bushfires in Australia

Research and public policy series no. 98

Damon A Muller
ISBN 978 1 921532 11 5 ISSN 1326-6004
Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology; February 2009

Abstract

Based on previous research undertaken by the Australian Institute of Criminology it seems that approximately half of all vegetations fires - some 20,000 to 30,000 each year - are deliberately lit, and that arson in all forms costs the Australian community $1.6 billion annually. Although it can be very difficult to identify whether a fire is deliberately lit and even more challenging to identify who is responsible, there are still a range of strategies and interventions that may reduce the likelihood of bushfire arson occurring.

This report seeks to assist and inform fire-prevention policies and practices by examining what we know about the risk factors for arson and who commits it. Available evidence suggests that the risk of deliberate fires is higher during certain times of the year and week and that there are 'hot spots', most notably on the edge of urban areas. On known offenders there is limited research and it primarily relies on small samples of convicted arsonists. As a result situational and community crime prevention that addresses the local environment is most likely to have an impact, whilst offender based approaches have to focus on the treatment of known offenders, both adults and juveniles.

To assist the further development of preventative initiatives the report discusses the main crime prevention principles and approaches by linking them to examples of programs that target the environment, the community and known offenders. A wide range of measures are provided as examples, including those related to controlling access, fuel reduction, removing abandoned cars, and various community awareness campaigns that have targeted specific groups and/or communities. However, the report concludes that more investment is required in impact evaluation to ensure that the efficacy of discrete programs is better understood, and that, to be more collaborative and strategic, crime prevention approaches in the future will need to involve fire and other agencies, and local communities.

This report was funded by the Australian Research Council's Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre (Bushfire CRC) as part of Program C3.