RURAL Arson Control
Combat Public Apathy Toward Arson
Public apathy toward arson and arsonists hampers arson control efforts in rural areas.
Fire service personnel repeatedly made reference to public apathy as a major hindrance to their arson control efforts. The principal complaint was that people in rural areas see arson as a minor crime and one that will not strike them. Indeed, some forms of arson may not be regarded as a crime at all. For example: in rural areas of the South it has been common practice for generations to bum woods and brush to clear land and to control insect and snake populations.
One prosecutor pointed out that juries are unlikely to mete out stiff punishment for an offense they do not regard as a serious one. He noted that “ripping-off” an insurance company (by arson) is regarded in much the same way as cheating on income taxes: publicly condemned, but privately tolerated.
Arson Control Expert Concurrence
At least one insurance company has undertaken a media campaign to publicize the cost of arson to the public-that 25 cents of every property insurance premium dollar is lost to arson . Similar campaigns have been undertaken by public or quasi-public organizations (notably fire prevention cooperatives) with good effect.
Oklahoma has instituted an arson hotline with an “800” telephone number. Funded with insurance company money, and run by the state Arson Advisory Council, it pays $50 and up for tips. The Council prints and distributes” business cards” containing hotline information in addition to the usual promotional brochures, newsletters, and radio ads.
Increasing public awareness of the cost of arson to the community and of its status as a serious criminal offense.
Each of the four work groups saw merit in educating the public and combatting public apathy about arson. However, none felt that they had the resources to