Formation of the Task Force
The objective in the formation of the Task Force was to combine the skills and expertise from each agency to ensure that each fire investigation would flow smoothly from the fire scene examination through the court process, and finally to a successful prosecution. This has been accomplished with teamwork, coordination, cooperation, and a total commitment from each member. The concept of the Fire Investigator, Police Arson Investigator, Special Agents from the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, and the Bureau Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms working side-by-side at fire scenes, on follow-up investigations, and on cases going to court has led to more arrests and convictions.
The Task Force is comprised of five Fire Investigators from the Charlotte Fire Department, four Police Arson Investigators from the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department, two Public Fire Educators, and one office assistant/ secretary. Though physically removed from the office in the early 1990's, agents from the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms are available at all times for response to incidents. The Task Force is supervised by a Chief Fire Investigator and a Police Sergeant who report to the Fire and Police Chiefs respectively. Both supervisors act as liaisons for the Task Force.
Staffing and Response
A minimum of one Fire Investigator and one Police Arson Investigator are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The current work schedule is broken into two shifts. Each shift is comprised of two or three Fire Investigators and at least one Police Arson Investigator. First shift Investigators are on call from 0300 to 0730 hours. Their office hours are 0730 to 1600 hours. Second shift investigators office hours are from 1430 to 2300 hours. They are on call from 2300 to 0300 hours. These shifts provide maximum coverage for fire investigation with the current number of personnel. When multiple requests for investigations occur or an investigator needs assistance, additional investigators can be called in via pagers, radios, or telephone.
During a multiple alarm incident, a group page is issued to all Task Force investigators and all available members respond as directed by the Chief Investigator. Currently each Fire Investigator maintains a caseload of approximately 150 to 200 cases per year. The Police Arson Investigators are responsible for arson investigation in the City of Charlotte as well as Mecklenburg County.
Effectiveness of the Task Force
Before the implementation of the Fire Investigation Task Force, Charlotte's incendiary dollar loss reached a total of $4,176,416.00. Today, it has dramatically dropped while misdemeanor and felony convictions have increased significantly. The Task Force has consistently maintained a 30% clearance rate on all incendiary fires, twice the national average. Publicity of every arson and unlawful burning case has contributed to the reduction of fire cases.
Reward and awareness programs
Two reward programs have helped contribute to the reduction in fire cases. The State Arson Reward Fund is funded by the insurance industry for information regarding incendiary fires. Charlotte's local program is Crime Stoppers. This program uses local funds from agencies in the community for information regarding incendiary fires. The members of the Task Force also utilize a fund to solicit information from hesitant witnesses in incendiary fire cases. All of these programs are very effective in combating incendiaries and have helped convict people responsible for setting fires in Charlotte.
Another awareness program utilizes prominent signs that have been posted on every main road leading into Charlotte stating that "All fires within the city limits of Charlotte will be thoroughly investigated".
Along with maintaining investigation responsibilities, all Task Force members participate in other activities such as the Juvenile Fire Setters Program, the National Arson Prevention Initiative, (which includes several continuing programs), National Fire Prevention Week, National Arson Awareness Week, and other public events. The current Office Assistant's responsibilities include normal secretarial duties as well as maintaining and coordinates the smoke detector program, scheduling the Fire safety houses, and entering all data for the current data bases.
Juvenile Firesetter's Program
The Charlotte Fire Investigation Task Force is also extensively involved with the Juvenile Firesetter's Program. The Charlotte Fire Department, juvenile justice network, and the private sector all promote this program. The program identifies juvenile fire setters through normal fire investigations or through referrals. Once the child's level of fire activity has been determined, the fire department's public education section provides counseling or directs the child to an assisting agency professional to provide counseling or other intervention.
Public awareness and education
A long-term goal of the Charlotte Fire Investigation Task Force is to maintain the cooperation and involvement of outside agencies and develop an effective arson prevention strategy. The success of the Task Force depends on the commitment of each agency to provide the necessary resources needed in the operation of the Task Force. It is essential to have community involvement and awareness in order to combat incendiaries. The importance of public education and awareness in preventing incendiaries cannot be overemphasized. Public education will create an awareness of incendiaries, educate the public about it and its impact, and help mobilize community resources against it. Support and cooperation of legislative and legal functions is a critical factor in the effectiveness of the Task Force in combating incendiaries.
National Arson Prevention Initiative
In 1997 the City of Charlotte was chosen a one of three cities to participate in a pilot program, The National Arson Prevention Initiative. This program was conceived by President Clinton to combat arson through partnerships with local communities and neighborhoods. This program was initiated due to the many intentionally set fires in houses of worship throughout southeast region.
The Charlotte Fire Investigation Task Force continues to have a substantial impact in the arson mitigation efforts in the City of Charlotte.
The Charlotte Fire Investigation Task Force
1215 South Boulevard, Charlotte, N.C. 28203
Phone - (704) 336-3970 or (704) 336-3979
FAX - (704) 336-3972
E-mail the Task Force