RURAL Arson Control
Low cost compact cameras designed for underwater use have been used in fire incidents with some success. They are rugged, waterproof, designed for use by someone wearing gloves, and inexpensively priced. (many retail for less than $200)
Several jurisdictions use videotape equipment to record fire growth. In other areas, one photographer takes fire scene pictures for a number of departments which share the cost for this service.
Rural departments might be aided by a list of cameras that other fire depart- ments have found suitable (Rehobeth Beach, Delaware uses a Minoltatm 35mm. camera that is both shock and water resistant).
State or federal agencies could negotiate guaranteed purchase price contracts with vendors for several types of field proven cameras/video camera recorders. This service would help departments obtain the suitable equipment for an affordable price. This would encourage the practice of the officer-in-charge photographing the fire scene.
Prepare a videotape for the volunteer fire service describing the benefits of fire scene photography and videotaping. The videotape could outline practical tips for enhancing fire scene documentation.
Control of Arson Scene
Strengthening is needed in rights and procedures for scene control, chain of custody, and searches.
The effect of the U.S. Supreme Court decision: Michigan v. Clifford has been to complicate cause and origin investigation. This ruling reinforces the need to obtain the owner’s written consent (stating that the consent was given voluntar- ily, without coercion, and that the individual understood that it did not have to be granted) for conducting an arson investigation.
A second action that needs to be taken is to begin the investigation before the engines leave. Warrantless re-entry after control of the fire scene is relinquished is discouraged by this decision. In the absence of some reason related to fire safety or the owner’s written consent, an administrative or court-approved search warrant is needed to investigate the cause of the fire once fire suppression and control activities cease. The administrative warrant secured to determine cause should not be construed as permitting a wholesale search of the property. Once the cause is determined, the administrative search should end and any broader investigation should be done after a criminal search warrant has been obtained. This means interrupting the search, securing the scene, swearing out an affidavit, and obtaining a criminal warrant.