If I so desired, I could probably make this blog all about firefighters-turned-arsonists and still have enough material to post at least once a week. The latest example comes from Opp, Alabama, where a firefighter allegedly set a mobile home ablaze for no discernible reason.
The problem has been serious enough in years past for the Department of Homeland Security to compile a special report, from which the table above (click to enlarge) is drawn. The report’s choicest section deals with motives, and includes this choice quote from an FBI investigator that gets to the heart of why criminals’ rationales so often elude comprehension:
Motives for arson, like other aspects of human behaviors, often defy structured, unbending definition. Strictly speaking, who can argue that vandals are not looking for excitement when they are engaging in their malicious mischief? Add an element of power and revenge and one can see the problem of strict, unyielding classification. Be aware that motivations may change.
That last line is key: Criminals themselves typically don’t totally understand what drives them, and so they will cite different motives over time. This vastly complicates our efforts to understand them—those who disregard society’s conventions have no interest in making our attempts at pop psychology any easier.
This is an irritating truth for writers, of course. How much easier our jobs would be if we could accurately summarize an evildoer’s motives in a single paragraph. And yet how many of us still attempt to do just that, even though such shortcutting does a disservice to our craft.