JERSEY CITY FIRE DEPARTMENT

Arson Investigation Unit

Commander - Captain Michael F. Hulings


Staffing
The unit was originally formed in the early eighties and was staffed with six members. These members performed only Cause and Origin, and handed all criminal investigations over to the Police Department. This procedure proved however, to be ineffective. Cases that were considered a high priority by the Fire Dept., would sometimes be put on a back burner by the Police Dept. and eventually good cases would slip through the cracks.


From 1987-89, five new members were assigned to the unit. These members were trained and received full Police Powers. By 1993 the unit had grown to a total number of fifteen members. The Unit was staffed with one Deputy Chief, one Captain, and thirteen Investigators.


The Chief and Captain worked the day tour, Monday to Friday, the Investigators worked in four three man teams, providing twenty four hour coverage. One Investigator worked as a swing man and would fill in for vacations, etc.. Our arrest rate began to soar and as a result, the crime of arson began to decline in Jersey City. Due to budgetary constraints, manpower within the Unit has since been reduced. Currently, the Unit is staffed with three Captains and four Investigators.

Duties
Captains
Arson Commander; is responsible for the overall management of the Unit, instituting procedure and management of cases.
Administrative Captain; currently works days and assists with administrative duties. He will fill in as Acting Arson Commander or on a group when needed. His duties are to oversee Investigators in office and scene procedure, as well as case management.


Arson Line Captain; works a 24 hour on, 72 hour off, group schedule. He will supervise and assist the Investigator and will fill in for a vacation period or assist and supervise an investigator with a heavy case load.


Investigators
Investigators work a 24 hour on, 72 hour off, 4 group schedule. Their duties are to respond to and investigate all working structure fires as well as all undetermined, suspicious, incendiary, large loss and fatal fires.


The Investigator, in the course of his investigation, plays several roles. The investigation begins with initial response at which time the Investigator must determine the cause and origin of the incident. This will enable the Investigator to follow the appropriate investigative process. The Investigator then must photograph the scene, secure and process pertinent evidence, conduct interviews and/or interrogations. He is then responsible for the identification of witnesses and apprehension of suspects. When the Investigator apprehends the responsible actor, it is his duty to affect the arrest as well as interview, process and transport the prisoner/s to jail.


The Investigator then works closely with members of the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office, New Jersey State Attorney General's Office and the United States Attorney's Office. By working closely with the prosecuting government agency we are attempting to insure a prosecution that results in a successful conviction. The unit has maintained a nearly perfect conviction rate for the past several years.

Training
All members of the Arson Unit receive full Police Academy training, as well as specialized Arson Training courses. All members are armed and have full Police powers. Annually, each member is required by the State Attorney General's Office to attend In-Service Re-certification training, as well as qualifying twice a year with a firearm. Due to the many diversified tasks required of the Arson Investigator, members are encouraged to attend various specialized related courses.


Members of the Unit are also called upon to advise and assist outside agencies in honing their skills as Arson Investigators. Members of the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms as well as members of nearby municipal Arson Units, often accompany and work with our Investigators as a means of gaining experience and knowledge. Due to the extensive caseload and the success of our investigations, the Unit has become known and respected throughout the state.

Total Cases 1998 & 1999
472 Case Files were opened in the year 1998
461 Case Files were opened in the year 1999

In both years 1998 & 1999 approximately 70% to 80% of the cases have been closed, solved, or have been concluded by arrest. The Unit averages approximately 70 to 100 arrests per year, including the processing of juveniles who may be referred to a monitored, Juvenile Fire setter Program in lieu of arrest. Many cases are worked hand in hand with the Insurance Industry. Several cases have resulted in the denial of a claim by the company due to owner involvement.

Summary
The Arson Investigation Unit, although working understaffed, has maintained a successful arrest record and conviction rate. Dealing with the criminal element is not unusual for the arson investigator. Many of these criminals are known felons with histories of violence and many are deranged and/or psychotic. Not all arsonists are street criminals. Members of the Unit have exposed many arsonists who have attempted to deceive, defraud or otherwise commit Arson.


One such case was recently discovered when an estranged lover set fire to his girlfriend's apartment after a breakup. After illegally entering the girlfriend's apartment, the scorned lover took an electric clothes iron, plugged it into an electric outlet, turned it on and placed the iron on the carpeted floor. This was done in an attempt to make the fire appear to be accidental. In fact, the actor had poured an accelerant on the carpet and ignited the floor with a match.


In another case, members of the unit tracked down an Arsonist who had set fire to over seventeen vehicles in a twenty-four hour period. Within an hour of the Arsonists spree, members of the Arson Unit arrested the suspect obtaining a full confession, including an admission of other vehicles he had set fire to in Union City and North Bergen.


Demonstrating excellent investigative techniques and exemplary resourcefulness, members of the Unit tracked down an Arsonist following a trail of telephone calls made by the actor. Within two hours and traveling to another municipality, Unit members arrested the actor who, in an attempt to murder his girlfriend, had set fire to an apartment building where many children were located.


In a recent case where a guilty verdict appeared to be impossible, a Ninety Year Sentence was handed down to a female Arsonist who had murdered three innocent children. Using an accelerant poured in the hall of the home, the woman started a fire in retribution for an ongoing dispute with her landlord. Due to the excellent investigation conducted by the members of the Arson Unit and the testimony they provided in court, the trial reached a successful conclusion.


Conducting thorough scene examinations and demonstrating a relentless endeavor of investigative procedure, has resulted in the arrest and conviction in all of the above mentioned cases as well as many other cases investigated by the Unit.


This year, the Unit has conducted over seventy active investigations. Approximately twenty five of those cases are ongoing. The remaining cases have been closed out due to arrest, or where a specific cause other than a criminal act, has been determined.