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Arson: Officials respond to demands of the crime

By Staff
Jan. 28, 2001
Arson is one of the most despicable crimes that can be perpetrated by one human being on another, or, for that matter, on a community. Like a shadow in the night, the arsonist does his dirty business and then skulks away to await another opportunity.
What kind of person would burn down houses in a city like Meridian is a question for the mental health experts to explore. Suffice it to say, eliminating as much of the opportunity as possible for an arsonist to strike is not an unreasonable course of action. This could be done by requiring property owners to repair and renovate their decrepit houses or tear them down.
Alas, some city officials seem reluctant to tackle the leadership necessary to get the job done. So there is talk, and talk, and more talk, and then budget cuts, and then maybe personnel changes, and then maybe a few news stories here and there. And vacant houses, some already condemned by the city, are festooned with something resembling crime scene tape, which is simply left to flap in the wind.
Not good enough.
City officials should take immediate action to correct the blight caused by vacant houses that have fallen into disuse and disrepair. They should demand that owners clean them up or tear them down.
That said, the action last week by the chiefs of Meridian's fire and police departments regarding the best approach to investigating arsons is worth noting.
Police Chief Gregg Lewis endorsed a proposal made by Fire Chief Bunky Partridge to certify a fire investigator as a law enforcement officer. The certification would enhance the Meridian Police Department's Arson Task Force, and ease the burden on other officers already working a high number of active cases by giving a fire investigator arrest powers.
He sees the move as an enhancement of his department's ability to respond to a very serious property crime.
Partridge announced he would seek law enforcement certification for Fire Investigator Vince Vincent, who was appointed to the Arson Task Force early last week.
Vincent is also the handler of Schroeder, a dog trained to sniff out more than 1,000 accelerants used to start fires.
Lewis has contacted the state's Board of Minimum Standards and Training for guidance in obtaining that certification. The next step will be for Lewis and Partridge to write and submit a formal proposal to the city administration for approval.
Of the 22 arsons reported in Meridian in the year 2000, arrests have been made in only four cases. The remaining cases are either awaiting the return of processed evidence or remain open with no evidence to proceed with the case.
Importantly, the figure for 2000 was nearly double the number of arsons reported in 1999.
It is clearly time for more aggressive investigation and enforcement.
Giving arrest powers to a member of the fire department is a good idea. If he runs across other crimes while he is in pursuit of an arsonist, so much the better.
The Meridian Star endorses this joint proposal as a meaningful step allowing the city's police and fire personnel to work together more closely and maximize the resources of both agencies.