Arson has been identified as the fastest growing type of crime in America today. National statistics show that when measured on a cost- per-incident basis, arson is the most expensive crime committed. Less than 20% of arson arrests result in convictions. Arson for profit is responsible for about one-half of all fire related property lose in America. Insurance fraud is the most common target for an arson-for-profit scheme. Insurance fraud has been referred to as “the modern way to refinance.”
The primary role of the fire investigator, as with any criminal investigator, is to determine the truth. In seeking the truth, the investigator must complete a post-fire examination of the structure or vehicle that is the subject of a suspicious fire and determine the cause and origin of the fire.
Interviews must be conducted, evidence collected, and comprehensive reports of all findings must be prepared. If, during the initial stages of inquiry, actions indicating criminal conduct or evidence of criminality are uncovered, the fire investigator must immediately shift to his secondary role to identify and move against those responsible.
An investigative checklist is used to ensure that every pertinent fact about the case has been identified. It is also used to identify those cases to be assigned to case management. Finally, it may serve as a supervisory tool in evaluating an investigator’s performance and in the assignment of additional cases based on case load. An investigative checklist should include the following types of data.
Identity of the assigned investigator;Victim identification;Suspect/defendant information;Detailed information relating to the incident including time, address,identity of the fire chief, first firefighter, and police officer at the scene, etc;Classification of the offense (e.g., arson, occupied or abandoned,etc.), arson/homicide;Detailed information relating to the investigative procedures and steps taken;Identification of physical evidence and followup procedures;Identification relating to prosecution of the case;Witness information.
Types of data to be determined from related reports would include a chronological listing of incidents; date and time; classification, including whether residential or commercial, occupied or abandoned, forest or brush; point of origin (where fire started); type of accelerant used or suspected; classification of damage; and death or other injury.