Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Malicious Hoax Calls and Suspicious Fires: An Examination of Their Spatial and Temporal Dynamics

Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Malicious Hoax Calls and Suspicious Fires: An Examination of Their Spatial and Temporal Dynamics

Article excerpt

Malicious hoax calls and suspicious fires are a significant burden to the community in terms of financial costs, as well as the potential danger caused by deliberate ignitions and a reduction in the availability of finite resources to respond to legitimate emergencies. In 2008, in the United Kingdom, malicious hoax calls to the fire brigade cost taxpayers more than $73m per annum (Nugent & Sidders 2008) and in Queensland, malicious hoax calls comprise three percent of all call-outs. This includes a 1.4 percent increase over the period 2002 to 2007 (QFRS 2008). Suspicious fires also have a significant impact. The New South Wales Fire Service reported a $38m annual cost associated with property loss (NSWFB 1994) and it is suggested that suspicious fires account for roughly half of all vegetation fires reported in Australia (Bryant 2008). Flowever, very little is known about the dynamics of either malicious hoax calls or suspicious fires, even though they are prosecutable offences. While some studies find that malicious hoax calls and suspicious fires are more prevalent in economically disadvantaged areas (Corcoran, Higgs & Fligginson 2010; Flirschfield & Bowers 2004), to date, international research has not explored the micro-geographical dynamics of these incidents or their evolution overtime. Adopting a micro-geographic approach can identify persistent, transient and emergent dynamics of hotspots that can be used to inform optimal resource allocation in anticipation of likely load.

Recent studies in criminology demonstrate that crime has distinct and disguisable spatial dimensions (eg see Morenoff, Sampson & Raudenbush 2001). Neighbourhoods near or next to other criminogenic places are likely to experience more crime, whereas neighbourhoods further away experience less crime. Therefore, incidents of crime and disorder have spill-over effects. Put another way, contiguous areas influence each other in ways that either prevent or facilitate crime and disorder.

Until recently, the goal of criminological research has been to explain away or control these spatial dependencies. Flowever, as Townsley (2009: 453) argues, through the theoretical advances of environmental criminology, the 'spatial structure of areas and their respective adjacency to other areas' are slowly becoming central points of interest in their own right.

Studies in criminology largely focus on the more traditionally investigated offences such as homicide or drug use to the exclusion of other types of offences that may also cause social harm to society. This paper redresses this gap in previous research by placing the location of the offences at the centre of empirical investigations. For the first time, the application of advanced geographic and temporal visualisation and statistical techniques are deployed to identify the spatial and temporal dynamics of malicious hoax calls and suspicious fires across Queensland.

Aims of the research

The aim of the research is to employ geographical statistical measures to identify hotspots and coldspots and map their evolution over time. Using the State Suburb as the spatial unit of analysis, the research is guided by three principal questions:

1 .To what degree are malicious hoax calls and suspicious fires spatially concentrated in Queensland?

2. How has the spatial concentration of events varied over time?

3.To what extent are these spatial concentrations persistent, transient or emergent?


Fire incident data

Queensland fire incident data for a period of 13 years (1 January 1998 to 31 December 2010) were provided by the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service. The data include all calls for service under the categories of malicious hoax calls and suspicious fires.

Malicious hoax calls are defined in the fire database as malicious or mischievous calls including alarm activations and manual call points. Suspicious fires are defined in the fire database as fires of incendiary nature where physical evidence indicates that the fire was deliberately set and no accidental or natural ignition factor could be found. …

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