The Jersey City Police and Fire Departments are both engaged in a heated debate over the former having taken over arson investigation duties in the city. The Jersey City Police Department has now taken over most of the responsibility of investigating fires, and the fire chief has already spoken out against it. In January, Mayor Jeremiah Healy tried to fix a budget deficit by slashing the number of Fire Department arson investigators dramatically. Earlier, there were 13 investigators in the Fire Department. Those numbers were slashed to 3.
That meant the creation of a substantial backlog of fire investigations. In September, the city administration decided to give the remaining arson investigators the responsibility of determining the cause and origin of a fire. The responsibility of follow up investigation was handed over to the Police Department. That has dramatically pared down the powers of the Fire officers. Earlier, these investigators not only had the power to investigate a suspicious fire, but also make arrests, if necessary. Now, they can only determine the cause and source of the fire, and cannot investigate further, or arrest any person. Moreover, these investigative officers were also stripped of their guns.
The Fire Department is not taking this lightly. According to the Jersey City Fire Chief, it’s impractical to have two separate agencies handling a single suspicious fire.
A New Jersey criminal defense lawyer, however, will conduct his own investigation to protect a person’s rights. Arson crimes in New Jersey can be crimes of the first or second degree. A first-degree crime can lead to prison time of between 10 and 20 years, while a person charged with a second-degree crime can expect a prison sentence of between five and 10 years, if convicted.