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Where there’s smoke there’s fire: An opportunity theory perspective on vehicle arson

Kelly, Hannah (2016) Where there’s smoke there’s fire: An opportunity theory perspective on vehicle arson. Honours thesis, Murdoch University.

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Opportunity theories of crime suggest that crime occurs in specific spatio-temporal patterns due to an increase in opportunity and a decrease in risk. Financially-motivated crimes have been demonstrated to be influenced by the economy. From an opportunity perspective this is likely to be due to changes in an individual’s financial circumstances leading them to view the benefits of crime to outweigh the risks. To extend this idea, this research is examining whether financial hardship influences the perceived costs/benefits associated with crimes such as vehicle arson committed with the intention of escaping debt. From 1997-2003, vehicle fires in Surrey were occurring at a rate more than double the national average and many of these were transpiring under suspicious circumstances. Using an opportunity theory framework, this study aims to examine the spatio-temporal patterns of vehicle arson and discover how it was effected by changes in economic conditions. The data for this study were obtained from Surrey Fire Services and contain information on all fires that involved a vehicle in Surrey from 2000-2015. The vehicle fire data were separated into arson and non-arson groups depending on their recorded act/omission and various economic variables were considered to represent the market. Vehicle arson trends were examined over the study period along with motor vehicle theft data, economic variables and the non-arson fire data. Relative to the unsuspicious vehicle fires, vehicle arson was significantly more likely to occur at night in areas with little surveillance. Results indicate that vehicle arson increases during times of economic downturn. Vehicle arson significantly increased following a rise in unemployment and interest rates whilst non-arson vehicle fires remained stable throughout the study period thus supporting an opportunity theory of crime. Results are discussed with relation to situational crime prevention policy and practice.

Item Type: Thesis (Honours)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Law
Supervisor(s): Clare, Joseph
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