Cops hope training aids arson investigations

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Ted Sullivan
Saturday, October 24, 2009
— In one local arson case, a burglar broke into the former Carquest Auto Parts on North Main Street and stole a dozen boxes of tools.

He then lit fires in six areas of the store.

Janesville police investigated the blaze and found a fingerprint. Four months later, the fingerprint led to the arrest of a man, who admitted the crime and was convicted.

The June 2007 arson is an example of why three detectives at the police department have received training on arson investigations at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Md. The Federal Emergency Management Administration paid for the training.

Detectives Mark Johnson, Steve Williams and Chris Buescher graduated from the academy. They received training on origin and cause of fire, evidence collection, scene processing and interviewing.

Police said the training should help detectives investigate arson cases and close them with arrests. In the last five years, 79 arson investigations have resulted in 14 arrests.

The training also gives the department more detectives with arson expertise to cover the cases when other detectives are off duty, Lt. Tim Hiers said.

The Janesville Fire Department and police work together on arson cases. The fire department investigates the origin and cause of fire. Police investigate criminal acts related to fire.

Arsons are difficult to investigate because evidence is destroyed, witnesses often donít exist and confessions are rare, Johnson said. Often, a fire can only be ruled arson because other causes such as electrical problems are ruled out.

The academy had training on interviewing suspects in arson cases, Williams said. It also had classes on recognizing evidence, collecting evidence and determining accelerants.

Detectives had to investigate real fires that were set, Williams said.

Arson cases in Janesville hit a five-year high of 20 in 2008. This year through September, police had investigated 11 arsons.

Police could be investigating more arson cases in the future, Buescher said.

People with money problems might be motivated to set fire to their homes or vehicles to commit insurance fraud, Buescher said.

Last updated: 11:39 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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