DETROIT (WWJ) – Arson investigators in Detroit are issuing a strict warning to criminals in the area: If you torch a home in the Motor City, you will end up behind bars.
Arson Chief Charles Simms told WWJ’s Laura Bonnell more than half of the city’s 8,000 fires a year are intentionally set — and it’s something they are no longer going to tolerate.
“It’s common in Detroit. People think that they can set their houses on fire, or cars, for insurance purposes,” Simms said. “I want people to know that if you come into Detroit and you try to set a fire for insurance purposes, for fraud, for revenge, whatever the motive may be, that we will find you and we will prosecute to the full extent of the law.”
Simms said arson in the city is getting out of control and is even turning into a family affair. Recently, a mother and her two children were convicted on arson and fraud charges for burning down their home on Devonshire in 2013.
“The night of the fire, the dwelling was actually set on fire twice. So, it sounds like the first time it didn’t work so they came back and tried to set it for the second time,” Simms said. “To me, that shows a relentless effort to try to defraud the insurance companies and just a disregard for our firefighters in the city of Detroit. We’ve actually lost firefighters because of this, for vacant structures that people set on fire for fraudulent reasons.”
Rita Johnson, 47, and her 26-year-old daughter Olivia Floyd are now facing life in prison after being convicted on arson and fraud charges. Johnson’s 26-year-old son Darryl Floyd is also facing a lengthy prison sentence after being convicted of arson charges as a habitual offender.
“We actually have a lot of cases like this where they’re all family members and it’s unfortunate because, for example this family, all three of them are going to prison,” Simms said. “I think the culture has been for so long that you can get away with it. And we’re trying to put this out to change the mentality and the culture, that this will not be the city to come to for arsons.”
Simms said the part of the reason why arson happens so frequently in the city could have to do with lack of law enforcement manpower.
“We can only get to a certain portion of the arson fires, but we are doing the best we can and we are making some progress, as far as locking these arsonists up,” he said. “The mayor has given us eight more investigators to help combat this arson, so I think we will be able to make a great difference when it comes to prosecuting these arsonists.”
And it’s those prosecutors, Simms said, that arsonists should be the most afraid of.
“We’re getting these warrants, we’re taking them to the prosecutor, and we have very aggressive prosecutors who are charging these defendants to the full extent of the law,” he said. “These are serious crimes and you can go to prison for the rest of your life.”
To report someone for arson, contact Detroit police at 313-596-2940. Tips can also be provided anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-SPEAK-UP.