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Should police -- not fire fighters -- investigate suspicious fires?

What do you think? Is it bad policy for a police department to take over suspicious fires in town? What other ramifications do you see this having for fire officials?|

The question was posed to readers by NJ.com Thursday after the mayor of Jersey City transferred fire investigations to the police department.

The move is supposed to help Jersey City’s ailing budget. Earlier this year, city officials cut the number of fire department arson investigators from 13 to 3. Ten investigators were reassigned to firehouses in order to replace retirees, the Jersey Journal has reported.

With the number of suspicious fires that needed to be investigated growing, city officials determined that the remaining arson investigators should analyze the cause and origins of fires, and then turn over all follow-up investigation to the Jersey City Police Department.

Before the transfer of power, arson investigators had the responsibility to investigate and make arrests.

The switch is not sitting too well with the city’s new Fire Chief Darren Rivers, who came to office in September.

“This is something that has me truly baffled,” Rivers told the Jersey Journal. “My hands are tied. It is virtually impossible for me to do my job.”

What’ the reaction of the Jersey City Police Department?

The police chief says his staff will do its best and noted that members have excelled at fire investigations.

Dominick Marino, president of the Professional Firefighters of New Jersey, tells us, 

”We disagree whenever duties of a fire department are taken away and given to a different department. Fire investigations are best handled by experienced and trained fire personnel. If police officers are allowed to investigate fire scenes, then is it okay for fire fighters to investigate a murder scene? I think not. They should not have police officers investigate a fire scene.  It's just another way for local governments to manipulate its work force.”

As for Jersey City residents, 75.5 percent of people who took the NJ.com’s online poll voted no to the question of should police take over suspicious fire investigations. Only 24.5 percent of people voted yes.

Jersey City Local 1066 has filed an unfair labor practice over the issue. Earlier this week, so did the Jersey City Fire Officers Local 1064. Both groups plan to proceed according to law.

Joseph Krajnik, president of Local 1066, tells us that the results from the poll are overwhelmingly convincing that fire investigations should stay under the fire department.

“The one individual that requires to be persuaded in this matter is "Mayor Healy," for whatever reason or reasons, made this call and we disagree!”

Krajnik says the local, in conjunction with the Office of the Chief of the Department and the Office of the Director of the Jersey City Fire Department, will continue to ensure that all suspicious fires are investigated for the safety of both the citizens of Jersey City, and that of the fire fighters and fire officers.

Comments (3) -

  • Chad Zeller (Saint Bernard)

    10/23/2010 6:49:43 AM |

    Aren't the police busy "seriving and protecting" to be able to investigate arson. Seriously, I know nothing of police work in New Jersey, but why don't we take a look at the crime rate and see where the bigger problem is? They should not have cut a staff of 13 to 3. My fire department has 3 investigators but the cases we have are hanlded well by them. Maybe they should have only cut it down to 6 leaving 2 per shift to handle the work load. Then hire fire fighters, you just lost those higher salariews from the retireies, so hire some new fire fighters.


  • Ronald Fitzgerald (Ottawa)

    10/23/2010 7:42:00 AM |

    In my home town Police and Fire Investigators make up the City's Arson Investigation Team.
    Not sure if this is a unique situation
    FPO's with Arson Investigation Training are teamed up with Police Officers to form a Team. Fire bring its skill set of where and how did it happen (recreate the scene), together with Police Investigation, Evidentiary and chain of custody skills and the ability to expedite warrants and arrests.
    This team approach seems to be working.

  • Joe Nichols (Idaho Falls)

    11/10/2010 5:01:17 PM |

    I am not an "arson investigator" nor do I have "arson investigation" training. As a Fire Prevention Officer one of my duties is fire "origin and cause determination." We cannot know if a fire was arson until a complete and unbiased investigation has been completed. Labeling a fire "suspicious" prior to processing the scene indicates an improper bias going in and sets you up for legal challenges later.
    I routinely work and train with detectives from local law enforcement who have been trained in origin and cause determination. I agree with Ronald that this joint approach works very well. I keep the cops from jumping to the wrong conclusions about how the fire started and when it turns out to be incendiary; they have kept me from spoiling evidence or violating anyone's civil rights.

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