Fire, Police Squad Formed To Battle Arson in Seattle

Fire, Police Squad Formed To Battle Arson in Seattle

Public and private agencies have joined together in the City of Seattle and King County, Wash., to cut down on arson fires.

A task force consisting of representatives of the Seattle Fire and Police Departments, King County prosecutor’s office, and county sheriffs office, mayor, Seattle City Council, Chamber of Commerce and insurance industry has been instrumental in forming a joint police and fire arson squad and setting up a comprehensive police/fire training program.

The task force was formed at the instigation of Fire Chief Frank R. Hanson shortly after he was appointed in early 1975. His initial move was to transfer the reporting by the fire investigation squad from the fire marshal directly to the chiefs office. Operational reorganization has resulted in shorter response time, more readily available special equipment, additional manpower, better record-keeping and the beginnings of a more sophisticated analysis system.

Losses being reduced

This was followed by the formation of the Seattle Metro Task Force on Arson. Implementation of task force proposals has already begun, and already the arson patrol concept has assisted in reducing arson losses in Seattle. In contrast to the national average of a 15.8 percent increase, Seattle showed 9 percent decrease in 1975.

To mount a comprehensive attack on arson, the combined police/fire arson patrol will go through a three-phase training program in arson investigation. Two police detectives have been assigned to duty with the arson group. They are under the administrative jurisdiction of the police department, but operationally, they are under the fire chief. It is planned to keep the police detectives on the arson squad for at least two years, or until fire personnel are trained in criminal investigation procedures.

The three-phase program consists of a basic law enforcement course, a crime scene investigation course and classes in advanced arson investigation techniques. The costs of Phases I and II will be limited to the cost of instructors at $13 an hour. Phase III costs include equipment and various educational aids.

Police instructors

Phase I will be 166 class hours, and is almost identical to the 11 -week basic law enforcement course of the Seattle Police Department Academy, with the exception of classes in calisthenics, first aid and the like. Classes will be scheduled during the investigators’ off-duty hours and will be conducted by police academy instructors.

Classes will be held three hours a night, three nights a week, so that Phase I can be completed in 18 weeks. Completion of the course provides the basic law enforcement knowledge to conduct initial and follow-up investigations. Reporting and recording skills will also be included.

Investigation procedures

Phase II offers advanced investigative techniques and methods and is identical to the police department’s detective school. This 40-hour course will be conducted at the academy by academy instructors and can be completed within two months. All who complete Phase I will go on to Phase II. Since this is an on-going course at the academy, fire investigators will go to class with police officers.

Phase II provides information, methods and procedures for investigating other serious crimes, many of which are directly related to arson incidents, such as fraud, vice, narcotics, larceny and delinquency. At the conclusion of Phase II classes, investigators are expected to he able to obtain the evidence needed to present a case file to the prosecutor’s office.

The final phase of training—the advanced arson and fire investigation course will provide the opportunity to apply the knowledge gained in Phases I and II to the recognition and detection of arson and the use of investigative techniques.

The 80 hours of Phase III can be completed within three weeks. Most of the work will be done in the field. Fire department personnel who have completed Phases I and II, plus the police detectives assigned to the arson squad, will take Phase III. Seattle fire investigators and metropolitan area fire service specialists will be the instructors.

Specialized training

The purpose of Phase III is to accomplish comprehensive investigations of all arson incidents, stressing those involving injuries, deaths and large monetary losses. After the completion

of Phase III, more specialized training will be available in such subjects as fire deaths, the psychology of arsonists, information systems, corporate manipulation, insurance underwriting procedures, electricity as a cause of fire, flammable liquids and combustible materials.

Phase I includes classes on listening and note taking, report writing, perception and communication. Class time will be given to a study of arrest, search and seizure, the United States Constitution, the justice system and criminal law. Additional subjects take in abnormal psychology and interviewing of arson suspects, use of force, firearms and fire-police relations.

Other portions of the course deal with criminal investigation, rules of evidence, court testimony, juvenile procedures and fingerprinting. Classes will also deal with liquor control, gambling commission and vice, crime lab techniques, narcotics and the medical examiner. Sixteen hours will be devoted to mock scenes, and the final two class hours to a critique.

Physical evidence

Phase II—crime scene investigations presents an introduction to physical evidence and the police lab, the legal aspect of physical evidence, lab requests and other reports, trace evidence, physical evidence in vice, assault death investigations, traffic offenses and rape investigations.

Other aspects of the course include fencing, narcotics, notes, reports and statements, crime scene sketches and crime scene photos. The classes will also study auto theft, the medical examiner, burglary, safe burglary, interviewing witnesses and canvassing neighborhoods.

Phase III on advanced arson and fire investigative techniques is divided into 10 sections. The first part deals with responsibilities in arson prevention, detection and investigation. Part 2 is a historical and operational analysis of fire losses and causes.

Determination of origin

The third part of the course deals with determining the point of origin and cause, and the fourth with the recognition of arson—including motivation, method, observation of contents or lack of same, arson rings and field demonstrations. Crime scene photography, records and reports, information sources and court procedure make up the bulk of the remaining classes. The last sessions will be devoted to a critique and examinations.

The final responsibility for the success of the arson control program belongs to the Seattle Fire Department. Continued effort on the part of fire department personnel, increased coordination and cooperation between the governmental agencies involved, especially the police and fire departments and prosecuting attorney—coupled with new interest in the private sector— should spell success in the fight against set fires in the Seattle metropolitan area.

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