The burning question: Did the GFC increase vehicle arson?

R. Kelly*, J. ClareMurdoch University in Perth, Western Australia

*corresponding author:


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 global market prices. To extend this idea, this research is examining whether economic crises have influenced the costs/benefits associated with crimes such as insurance fraud committed with the intention of escaping debt. From 1997-2003, vehicle fires in Surrey, BC, Canada 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 the global-financial crisis (GFC). 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. As the data did not differentiate between arson and non-arson fires the data was spatially and temporally mapped and using opportunity theories the resulting patterns were separated into suspected arson and non-arson clusters. The variations in the vehicle arson data were examined over the study period along with vehicle theft data, economic variables and the non-arson 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 shared a significant negative correlation with the economy. Vehicle arson significantly increased following the GFC 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