Property crimes are the most common crimes in the United States. One such property crime is arson — the intentional, malicious burning of property. There are many reasons why someone might commit arson. Some are arson insurance fraud cases, while others are to get revenge against another individual. Prosecuting arson cases as felonies is standard, though occasionally, they are dropped to misdemeanors, such as in cases of criminal mischief.
Prosecuting Arson Cases
Arson case laws vary by state, with harsher punishments given to arsonists who burn buildings where people and the increased risk of burn injuries and even death are present. There are also vastly different arson rates in each state. In this infographic, we collected data about the cities in the United States with more than 25,000 residents and compared the number and frequency of arson fire cases in 2017.
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Arson Cases by State
Our statistics for arson fire cases are based on the number of offenses per 100,000 residents. Five of the ten cities in the United States with the highest arson rates are in the state of California. Fourteen California cities appear on the list of cities with the most arson cases: Chico, Montebello, Merced, Eureka, Calexico, Delano, Bakersfield, Stockton, Antioch, Brawley, Woodland, Compton, Vallejo, and Turlock.
Ohio follows California in a distant second place with five cities on the top 50 list: Springfield, Youngtown, Cleveland, Zanesville, and Akron. Of these, Springfield and Youngtown are among the ten cities with the highest arson rates.
Several states do not have cities within the top 50 at all, including Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming.
Arson Cases by City
Of the 50 cities that have the highest arson rates, the city with the greatest total number of arson fire cases is Detroit, Michigan. Detroit is famous for its “Devil’s Night,” taking place the night before Halloween, when mayhem is caused and abandoned homes are often burned. An arson was also depicted in the movie 8 Mile, which was set in Detroit.
Detroit saw more than twice as many arson fire cases as any other city in the top 50; it had 869 arson cases in 2017. The city with the second-most arson cases was Memphis, Tennessee, with 365 offenses. Their city populations differ by only around 18,000 residents. Los Angeles saw more total arsons than Detroit, but its population is roughly six times larger than Detroit, so its arson rate did not rank in the Top 50.
Types of Arson
Single-occupancy homes are the most common structures to be targeted in arson cases. Arson fire cases cause an average of $27,168 in damage to single-occupancy homes. The most expensive arson crime cases usually involve industrial and manufacturing buildings, but there is only about one case of industrial building arson for every 50 cases of single-occupancy home arson.
Motor vehicle arson is not as common as structural arson, but there were 8,385 known cases in 2017 in cities with 25,000 residents or more.