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Detroit may reduce number of arson investigators

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(Photo Credit: WJBK | myFOXDetroit.com) (Photo Credit: WJBK | myFOXDetroit.com)
DETROIT (WJBK) -

Firefighters in Detroit battled one fire after another all morning long Monday.  We're told there were 21 separate fires set between midnight and 6:30 a.m.  One firefighter was injured by falling bricks at a building on Chene and Pierce.  He was taken to the hospital to be checked out.  Arsonists were at the helm, investigators tell us.

Meanwhile, we're getting word that Detroit plans to lay off over 160 firefighters by the end of next month.  The city is hoping the layoffs are temporary, but firefighters tell Fox 2 the decrease in manpower could put lives in danger.

To crackdown on arsonists, you need arson investigators.  Fox 2, though, has learned the mayor is signing off on money matters that would cut arson investigators from 15 to nine in a city where its reputation precedes the smoke.

"We're the only city in the entire country that has to marshal 60,000 people every October to prevent our citizens from burning their own city down," said Jon Bozich, the former chief of investigations for Detroit Fire, who retired in 2001.

He's asking Mayor Dave Bing how he could cut the number from the Arson Division when fires are out of control.

"Persons responsible for it are never arrested, and then it kind of like grows, when somebody sees a fire in a neighborhood and they see all the excitement that's caused, a lot of people who would normally not be arsonists, and we've seen this time and time again in neighborhoods, would set a fire."

So, who caused these fires?  We asked arson investigators.  They tell us that at this point they're trying to figure out one of two theories -- either a drug war that went terribly out of hand, people burning down other people's territory, or it was someone trying to get rid of abandoned buildings. Whatever it was, they tell us they'll only be able to investigate maybe three or four of these out of the 21 set on fire.

Stephen Thomas trains fire investigators. He's a consultant.

"I think that the mayor and council should sit back and reconsider their options and their cuts and put the people first in Detroit."

So the theory is cut more arson investigators and the firebugs won't be caught, leaving a dangerous message and making things tougher to investigate.  Insurance rates may also go up.

"By cutting the arson program in half, it would only seem that we would be going backwards and that's not a good thing," said Jerry Justin with State Farm Insurance.

In 2009, Detroit had 20 arson investigators.  Sources inside the Arson Division tell Fox 2 it is unconscionable to cut any more investigators.

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