The state’s new arsonist registry is another means for arson investigators to keep track of repeat offenders.
“Potentially it’s a wonderful tool,” said Brian Miller, Springfield assistant fire chief and fire marshal. “But it’s going to take time to be useful.”
Miller said the registry will not include those with previous arson convictions who have served out their sentences prior to July 1.
But, as names are added to the registry, “It will let us know that there is someone in the area (of a suspicious fire) with a significant problem related to setting fires,” Miller said.
Springfield averages between 80 and 85 arsons of vehicles and buildings each year.
The law, signed Dec. 24 by Gov. John Kasich, requires convicted arsonists to register annually at the sheriff’s office in the county where they live upon their release beginning July 1. Those previously convicted who have served their sentence are exempt. Juveniles also are exempt.
Convicted arsons from other states also are required to register if they move to Ohio.
“Our investigators view it as a positive, not as a silver bullet,” said Michael Duchesne of the State Fire Marshal’s Office.
Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly said while the program is laudable, “it’s another unfunded mandate.” Sheriff’s offices throughout the state will handle the registration, overseen by the Attorney General’s Office.
“It’s pretty much the same as the sexual offender registry,” said Jill Del Greco of the Attorney General’s Office.
Del Greco said the AG spent $50,000 to expand the current technology to include the new registry. The offenders will pay for the upkeep of the system. They are charged $50 when they first register and $25 each subsequent year.
Sheriff’s offices will be able to access the registry online to enter the information, at no cost, Del Greco said. The registry is not available to the public.
Kelly pointed out none of the money goes to his office. His department will have to absorb any costs for inputting the data into the system.
Deputy Robert Wagner, who already updates the sexual offender registry, will be in charge of the arson registry. According to Wagner, there have been 210 arson investigation in the Springfield/Clark County area since 2009. He did not have any data on how many of those investigations went to court or ended with a conviction.
Numerous studies over the past 30 years show arsonists have high recidivism rate, meaning they are likely to commit another crime, often another fire.
Springfield’s Miller recalls convicting a man last year for six arsons, some of which were occupied buildings.
Christopher Allen Adams was arrested two months after being released from prison after serving 3 years on an attempted aggravated arson conviction. This time Adams was sentenced to 5 years in prison. When released, he will be required to register.
“If (the registry) helps to put someone like in prison for a number of years, then the number of arsons here should go down,” Miller said.
Miller noted that juveniles are exempt from the registry.
“National statistics show that slightly over 50 percent of arsons are committed by those who could be categorized as juveniles,” he said.