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Detroit Mayor Dave Bing praising the efforts of Angel’s Night volunteers who patrolled streets over the weekend. City officials are calling the slight uptick in the number of fires reported “manageable and consistent.”
There were more 169 fires during Angels’ Night compared to the 119 fires that were reported last year over the three-day period. But it’s still far less than the 800 fires that were reported in 1984 during what was once called Devils’ Night.
Speaking to reporters Monday morning, Bing also thanked police and fire personelle for their contributions.
Bing said, although he’s pleased with efforts of those who did participate in the city’s annual anti-arson campaign, he’s not satisfied with even the slight increase in fires.
“Well, we didn’t have as many people out [patrolling]. I think people are really getting to the point where you’re supposed to try to enjoy Halloween, and we gotta stop focusing, once again, on all the negatives,” Bing said.
“I mean, there are fires every night, every day,” Bing said.
The weekend’s numbers have Detroit Fire Commissioner James Mack looking at his staff, and at the fact that there are only 1,100 firefighters in the city.
“I would love an increase. But, again, that’s based on our economic climate. At this point, we’re hoping to do some competitive hiring sometime after the first of the year. But, again, that’s going to depend on the budget,” Mack said.
Detroit City Councilman Andre Spivey said he’d like to see an improvement next year.
“We can do much better next year in energizing our staffs, energizing council, and coming out as a unified body,” Spivey said.
Any caught setting fire to a building faces up to 20 years in prison.
Days before the annual volunteer patrols and campaign, crime sweeps and traffic blitzes were held. Five people were arrested on warrants for arson-related cases, police said. The city’s plan was “effectively and efficiently executed,” Bing said.
“That doesn’t mean that things didn’t happen,” he said. “Because we can’t control a lot of the foolishness that goes on as it relates to Angels’ Night.”
Of the 169 fires, 42 percent were in vacant houses or buildings. Another 23 percent were in occupied homes, while 22 percent were trash fires.
City officials were worried heading into the weekend, as Detroit is blanketed in vacant homes and buildings – an estimated 33,000 at the beginning of the year, according to one survey.
Under Bing, the city has stepped up demolition of the most dangerous vacant houses. Federal funds are being used to tear down 3,000 structures this year, and city officials hope to do the same in 2011.
Detroit’s vacant property registration ordinance, passed this summer by the City Council, could help reduce the numbers of abandoned homes targeted by arsonists throughout the year, said Kim James, director of Buildings, Safety Engineering and Environmental.
Property owners are required to register their vacant properties with the city or face a series of tickets and fines that could reach thousands of dollars.
The city is creating a database that will eventually be accessible online with lists of vacant properties, their owners, up-to-date enforcement actions and scheduled demolition.
“It would include fire damage and anything where the city has touched the property,” James said later Monday. “That will allow us to do more targeted enforcement of areas or particular property owners who are bad apples.”
The chance of arson also should be diminished if owners are forced to keep their property up by removing trash and debris, and boarding up doors and windows to keep out squatters and trespassers, she said.
Copyright, 2010. WWJ Newsradio 950, All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.