Detroit to add 9 investigators to arson squad - KMSP-TV

Detroit to add 9 investigators to arson squad

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DETROIT (WJBK) - Detroit sees about a dozen fires a night and every time another building goes up in flames, it just adds to the arson squad's pile of open cases.

With an average of 8,000 fires a year, the city's handful of arson investigators say there's no way every case will be solved.

Help is on the way, but is it enough?

These new hires will give Detroit some much needed manpower but it will be awhile before they're fully in the rotation.

"At any given time an investigator probably has 15 to 20 cases on his desk that's he's working on at one time," says Arson Chief Charles Simms.

That's led to backlogs, unsolved cases and emboldened arsonists.

The hope is that six new arson investigators, and another three soon after, will turn the tide.

"Everybody in the section, all of us new guys, we really want to make a difference," says arson investigator Lt. Andrew Schwedler.

Right now, Detroit has only seven arson investigators. How does that compare with other big cities?

"There's no comparison. I believe cities like Houston, I know they're a little bit larger, but Houston, Cleveland, they all have more investigators than we have. And they, for example Cleveland, they have nowhere near the fires that we have," says Simms.

Detroit averages roughly 8,000 fires a year and has had more than 1,000 arsons in 2014.
 
Suspects have been arrested in many of them and the cases are pending, but far too many arsons go unsolved.

"Percentage wise, I would say anywhere from 60 to 70 percent," says Simms.

Sadly, the calvary may be a long ways away.

Eighty hours of classroom training to go, several certifications ahead and a jaunt through the police academy means these future investigators won't be on the streets full time for at least nine months.

And even then, a staff of 16 would be lacking.

"I think if we want to make a difference and contain then we're going to need upward towards 30 investigators," says Simms.

When Fox 2's Randy Wimbley asks how likely is that to happen, Simms responds, "I hope the city takes it serious that they want to combat this arson problem," says Simms.

Even so, Chief Simms is optimistic. They've gotten by on a bare bones operation so any improvement is progress

"With this additional manpower that's going to do great wonders for us. We'll have more guys on there on the street, more guys doing footwork and hopefully, with the additional three guys after that, we'll be able to start showing the differences early as the end of this summer," says Simms.st



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