Convicting the Arsonist

Convicting the Arsonist

The only way in which the work of the incendiary can be curbed is to make his trade so dangerous that it is unprofitable. This has been the plan successfully adopted and carried out in the city of Detroit, Mich. A rather unique body, composed of two men and known as the Arson Squad, has rendered the operations of the arsonist in that city so perilous that this nefarious profession has as good as disappeared, and fire losses from this cause have been more than cut in half.

The method of successfully dealing with this class of criminal is one of the great problems of the fire chief. It is rendered doubly hard owing to the nature of the crime and of its perpetrator. In the crime itself the difficulty often arises that all of the evidence has been destroyed by the flames. The incendiary naturally counts upon this fact and uses all of his ingenuity—which is usually developed to an abnormal degree—to see to it that all incriminating signs are thoroughly destroyed by the blaze. Sometimes his plans miscarry, but more often they are successful, and in that case a conviction is well nigh impossible.

Another complication in the conviction of the accused is the attitude of the average jury. The principle that every accused individual is innocent until proved guilty, coupled with the peculiar sympathy that every American has for the man who has had a fire, tends strongly toward the acquittal of the defendant, unless the evidence is quite conclusive. A strong undercurrent of opposition to the insurance companies is also apt to be a complicating element. So that the chief who attempts to secure the conviction of the arsonist, at best has his hands full. If, in addition, the evidence has largely been destroyed in the fire, as it was intended to be, his case is nearly hopeless.

All of this emphasizes the extreme importance of the men being warned by the chief and made to thoroughly understand the importance of preserving the evidence carefully in all cases of suspicious fires. Only by so doing can the chief and his subordinates be sure of securing the conviction of the firebug.

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