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Duggan pushes Detroit arson reforms

Joel Kurth
The Detroit News
  • Detroit last year investigated 32 percent of suspicious fires and served warrants on 142 people.
  • Fire Commissioner Edsel Jenkins has begun attending weekly meetings with the Police Department.
  • The arson squad has struggled to attract recruits because of work hours%2C training and other issues.
  • Police Commission chairman Willie Bell isn't sure adding police officers would help investigators.

Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan says he's "completely dissatisfied" with unsolved arsons in Detroit and will reform how the crime is investigated.

Speaking on the same day The Detroit News reported that most arson cases in the city aren't solved, Duggan on Thursday said he's considering big changes. Among them: Assigning police to investigate the crime. It's now handled by the Fire Department's Arson Squad.

"We're not going to keep doing things the way we have been," Duggan told The News.

His comments came on the first day of a three-day News series about the impact of arson on the city. The News reported the crime is under-reported and under-punished, in part because staffing cuts have left the arson squad with 10 investigators to handle nearly 4,000 suspicious fires a year.

Last year, the squad investigated 32 percent of suspicious fires and served warrants on 142 people. That's up from 2013.

"It's a serious problem and I am completely dissatisfied with the clearance rate in the arson cases," Duggan told The News.

Fire Commissioner Edsel Jenkins has begun attending weekly meetings with the Police Department about crime trends, Duggan said. For the past month, Duggan said he's met with Jenkins and Police Chief James Craig to "figure out the right partnership."

Other cities such as New York and Phoenix have both police and firefighters investigate arson. In Detroit, the investigations are done exclusively by the Fire Department, whose arson squad members graduate from the police and fire academies.

About 20 years ago, both police and firefighters investigated arson in Detroit. They may again, Duggan said.

The city budget calls for hiring four more investigators this year and we "probably will end up committing some Detroit police officers as well," Duggan said. He wouldn't put a timeline on the changes.

Detroit Police Commission chairman Willie Bell said the arson squad needs more investigators, but he isn't sure adding police officers would help.

"I don't see a quick fix," Bell said. "Police officers don't have the knowledge or certification required to investigate arsons. It would seem like better help would come from within the Fire Department."

The arson squad has struggled to attract investigators because of the work hours, training and other issues.

jkurth@detroitnews.com | (313) 222-2513 | Twitter: @cityhallinsider