Ohio Crime Mapping Part 2 | Arson 1974-2008

Part two of our study of crime rates in Ohio focuses on Arson. Arson is defined as the willful or malicious burning or attempt to burn, with or without intent to defraud, a dwelling house, public building, motor vehicle, or other personal property of another. The data collected from the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Program only includes fires that have been determined as willfully set, excluding fires that have been labeled as suspicious or of unknown origin. In the US, the elements of the arson law often vary widely across jurisdictions, often creating problems in organization of arson data. Arson can be prosecuted as low as a misdemeanor, criminal mischief, or destruction of property, all the way up to first degree arson. Arson is prosecuted based on the severity of the offense, with first degree being the most extreme and usually occurs when a person has been harmed or killed as a result of the fire. A death sentence may also result if the arson was intended as a means of homicide.
Across the US in 2009, of the jurisdictions reporting, 58,871 arsons were reported, which was a 10.8% decrease from 2008. The arson rate across the US was 2.13 arsons per 10,000 residents. Of these arsons, 44.5% were involving structures (residential, storage, public), 28.4% were mobile property, and 27.1% were other types of property such as crops, timbers, and fences. The average loss across the US due to arson was $17,411.
The Ohio data for arson does not have the specificity that many of the crime data sets have due to the variations in defining arson from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. If the jurisdiction’s definition of arson did not closely resemble that of the FBI UCR data, then it was left out of the data set. Even still, the FBI managed somewhere between 90-95% of the jurisdictions reporting for each time frame; this is excluding 1974-1978, where no data was reported either to a lack of collecting data or insufficient data meeting the definition set forth by the FBI.

Starting with the years 1979 to 1983, Lucas County was the leader in Arsons per 10,000 people with 16.94. Closely behind Lucas was Scioto County in Southern Ohio, with 16.90 arsons per 10,000 people. The remaining counties rounding out the top 5 in terms of arsons per 10,000 were Meigs, Muskingum and Cuyahoga Counties with 11.60, 10.87 and 8.65 respectively. Franklin, Montgomery and Hamilton trailed behind the two other major counties with only 6.51, 7.11 and 7.64 arsons per 10,000 people. Paulding, Noble and Monroe Counties all reported 0 arsons per 10,000 people from 79 to 83; Knox County had the lowest arson rate with a recorded crime with only 0.06 arsons per 10,000 people in this time frame.

From 1984 to 1988, Lucas County remained the leader in arsons per 10,000 people, but witnessed a significant decrease in that number with only 10.25. This time frame saw an interesting shift in the leaders in arson rates, with the counties encompassing the major cities taking 4 of the next 5 positions. Hamilton fell in second place with 8.46, Franklin in third with 8.34, Cuyahoga in fourth with 7.30 and Montgomery in sixth with 6.86 arsons per 10,000 people. The remaining leader was Muskingum County in fifth place with 7.29 arsons for every 10,000 people. Seven counties recorded no arsons from 1984 to 1988, including Adams, Carroll, Hancock, Holmes, Meigs, Paulding and Vinton. The lowest county with a recorded arson was again Knox County, with 0.69 arsons per 10,000 people.

1989 to 1993 saw a substantial increase in arsons, especially from the leader. Mahoning County rocketed to the top in the arsons per 10,000 people, with 22.00 during this time frame; this is the highest recorded rate for any time frame in our study. Significantly behind Mahoning was Franklin County with 10.65 arsons for every 10,000 residents. Rounding out the top 5 was Allen, Lucas and Muskingum Counties with 9.81, 9.69 and 8.61 arsons per 10,000 residents respectively. Montgomery and Cuyahoga Counties saw little change with 6.48 and 7.53 arsons per 10,000 people, while Hamilton County experienced a decrease to 8.19 arsons per 10,000 people. 11 counties from 1989 to 1993 reported no arsons; Fairfield County had the lowest arson rate of counties with a reporting, with only 0.86 arsons for every 10,000 residents.

Mahoning County continued to lead the way in arson rate from 1994 to 1998, albeit a decrease from the previous time frame, it still witnessed 19.25 arsons per 10,000 people. Arsons continued to plague the counties containing Ohio’s major cities during this time frame. In order, the next 5 positions were occupied by Lucas, Franklin, Cuyahoga, Montgomery, and Hamilton Counties with 10.81, 9.88, 6.47, 6.38 and 5.31 arsons per 10,000 people. This was actually a fairly sizeable decrease for all the counties except Lucas, which saw an increase of about 1.12 arsons per 10,000 residents. 13 Counties in Ohio reported no arsons from 1994 to 1998; Hardin County which is northwest of Columbus had the lowest arson rate with a recording, with 0.08 arsons per 10,000 people.

For the third consecutive study period, Mahoning County led the State of Ohio in arsons from 1999 to 2003 with 10.70 arsons for every 10,000 residents. While the whole state saw a decrease in arson rate and this is a drastic decrease of about 7.5 arsons per 10,000 in the county, it is still over 0.8 arsons higher than the next closest county; coming in second is Lucas County, with 9.82 arsons per 10,000 people. Rounding out the top 5 in arson rate was Hamilton, Franklin and Portage Counties with 5.19, 4.97 and 4.61 arsons per 10,000 people. Cuyahoga and Montgomery Counties managed to avoid the top 5 with only 4.18 and 3.97 arsons per 10,000 people. 11 counties across Ohio recorded no arsons from 1999 to 2003, while Logan County northwest of Columbus had the lowest arson rate with a recording with only 0.04 arsons for every 10,000 people.

Our last study time frame, 2004 to 2008, saw an old leader in arson rate rise back to the top: Lucas County with 9.33 arsons per 10,000 people. Mahoning County came in a close second with an arson rate of 9.07 arsons per 10,000 people. The counties with the major cities rounded out the next four positions, with Franklin, Montgomery, Cuyahoga and Hamilton Counties reporting 5.59, 4.79, 4.76 and 4.09 arsons for every 10,000 people. 2004 to 2008 also saw a decrease in number of counties with no reportings of an arson with only 7 counties seeing no arsons. The county with the lowest arson rate with a recording was Wyandot County with only 0.11 arsons for every 10,000 residents.

65 of the 88 counties in Ohio reported a decrease in arsons per 10,000 people from 1974 to 2008. This decrease is especially important because the state saw a significant increase in the late 80’s up through most of the 90’s. To be below the levels of the initial study period of 1979 to 1983 seems to point to an aggressive anti-arson campaign in the State of Ohio. Throughout our entire study period, only two counties were the leader in arson rate: Lucas and Mahoning. While this may be a bit disconcerting for these counties, it should be noted that Lucas has seen an overall decrease since 1979-1983; Mahoning on the other hand has experienced a significant increase of about 5.7 arsons per 10,000 people since 1979-1983. Cuyahoga, Franklin and Hamilton Counties have all managed to post slight to moderate decreases since the beginning of our study.
In order to understand the sharp increase of arsons in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the decrease in the mid 1990’s and then the slight increase in the last 2 years after our study period, Three Scale contacted the Lucas County police department to understand these arson trends. The police department said then referred us to City of Toledo Fire Department, Arson Division where we were put in contact with Deputy Chief Phillip Cervantes. In his opinion, arson trends along with many other crimes, are heavily correlated to the economy. Directly concerning arson, he says when there is a downturn in the economy, more people are jobless and homeless and as a result resort to crime for other sources of income. A larger number of homes are vacant and foreclosed and many of the homes are often used by homeless, squatters and others for illegal activities, sometimes resulting in accidents. Finally, the materials used for the houses are often of significant value, particularly copper. Deputy Chief Cervantes said there has been instances where the copper thieves would intentionally burn a house down, allow the fire department to put out the fire, and then come to recover the copper and other valuable materials in the dark of the night. He attributes the significant decreases in the 90’s to many fire department funded fire prevention programs. He specifically mentioned fire prevention education programs along with programs where the fire department inspected homes for fire hazards and prevent opportunities for arsonists.
All told, it appears as though the State of Ohio has enacted some important and influential laws and programs preventing arsons across the state. Only two counties stayed atop as leaders in arson rates while most counties have maintained a promising decrease in arson rates per 10,000. 1989 to 1993 saw a staggering increase in the number of arsons but the state has managed to achieve current rates below that of its 1979-1983 levels. Achieving state or nationwide systems of defining arson may help curb these crimes even further, but it appears the state and nation are on the right track in preventing arsons.