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Home > Leadership > Mayor > Archived Press Releases > 2010 Archives > January 2010 > Increase Arson Arrests Decrease Arson Fires

Increase Arson Arrests Decrease Arson Fires

Contact: Peter K. Cutler



Reinforces City’s Success Against Arsonists with U.S. Attorney and ATF, Following Indictment of Fugitive in Australia

Mayor Byron W. Brown today announced that city’s continuing strong arson investigation efforts resulted in over one hundred arrests for arson-related crimes during 2009, while the number of arson fires has decreased in the city from 2008. In fact, 2009 marked a four year low in arson fires in Buffalo – in 2005, the city recorded 556 arson fires; last year, 296 arson fires were reported (47% decrease) and the Fire Investigation Unit of the Buffalo Fire Department oversaw arson investigations that led to 109 arrests (versus 51 arrests in 2005 – a 114% increase).

In addition, Mayor Brown hailed the effort of the United States Attorney’s office, local ATF agents and the BFD’s Fire Investigation Unit for the recent announcement of the indictment of suspected arson fugitive Robert M. Vernon for the December 2006 arson of the NYS Department of Motor Vehicles building at 334 Dingens Street in the city. Vernon is being held in custody in his native Australia.

“We chose this location to announce our continuing fight against arson fires in the city because it symbolizes the resolve and determination of several federal, state and local agencies in bringing those responsible for arson fires to justice,” said Mayor Brown. “Through the hard work of our Fire Marshall’s Office, we have been able to lower the number of arsons committed in our city, while at the same time increasing the number of arrests of persons responsible for those arsons. Since taking office, I have upgraded the technology available to the Fire Marshall’s Office personnel, including a new Firefiles software system that’s used in arson fire investigations, a new state-of-the-art fire investigation unit vehicle, an ATF-trained fire accelerant detection K-9 and opened new office for the Fire Marshalls at Elmwood and Virginia. Time and again, the personnel of the Fire Marshall’s Office have demonstrated their expertise in analyzing and investigating suspicious fires and other critical cases occurring in and around the City of Buffalo.”

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office is and has been committed to partnering with the City of Buffalo and the Erie County District Attorney’s Office to prosecute arsons that violate federal statutes,” said United States Attorney Kathleen M. Mehltretter. “When a building is used in interstate and foreign commerce, damage to or destruction of the building by fire violates federal law.   The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives works with the City of Buffalo Fire Investigation Unit to determine cause and origin  as well as to conduct the necessary investigation to charge an individual with starting or causing the fire to occur.  ATF has national resources available to local authorities for training and investigative assistance.” 

New York Field Division Special Agent in Charge Ronald B. Turk stated, "ATF remains steadfast in working to combat the violent crime of arson. We will continue to work side by side with the Buffalo Fire and Police Departments and bring all of our resources to bear in the investigation of these devastating crimes. Our Certified Fire Investigators and accelerant detecting canines, along with our Fire Research Facility and Laboratory are all part of the team ATF can bring together in partnering with our fellow law enforcement agencies to ensure a safer community."   

“The mission of the Buffalo Fire Department is to ensure the highest level of quality fire, EMS and specialized services to the residents of Buffalo,” said Acting Commissioner Garnell Whitfield.  “This was a collaborative effort and we want to thank the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; the District Attorneys’ Office and the US Attorneys’ Office for their support and willingness to work with us. I thank the residents of Buffalo for their encouragement and assistance through the use of our Tip Line, as well as the dedicated men and women of the Buffalo Fire Department for the daily sacrifices they make on behalf of the residents of our city. Utilizing various methods, such as new computer software programs and detection canines, has only helped us to increase the number of arsons we are able to solve and arrests we are able to make.”

In November 2007, the Fire Marshall’s Office acquired a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosives (CBRNE) Vehicle, which was purchased with federal Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) funds. The new CBRNE specialized vehicle is used by the Fire Investigation Unit in the processing and investigation of fire and explosion scenes (involving fire fatalities), suspicious fire related injuries, weapons of mass destruction, post blast investigations and other critical cases occurring in and around the City of Buffalo.

The city’s Fire Investigation Unit (FIU) has achieved a 100% conviction rate (including cold cases from previous years), which has benefitted from funding Mayor Brown has directed to train the Unit’s marshals in evidence collection, including DNA collection. The FIU is also part of the Erie /Niagara auto theft /arson task force.

City arson/arson arrests statistics: 2005 556 arsons, 51 arrests; 2006 480 arsons, 72 arrests; 2007 435 arsons, 121 arrests; 2008 325 arsons, 128 arrests; 2009 296 arsons, 109 arrests.

Program Agenda

  • James P Kennedy, Chief of the Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney’s Office
  • Frank Christiano , Senior Special Agent, ATF
  • Garnell Whitfield, Acting Fire Commissioner
  • Michael Flaherty, Chief Counsel to the Erie Co. District Attorney
  • Rick Ehlinger, Supervising Investigator, Division of Field Investigations, NYS DMV
  • Sal Colangelo, Fire Investigation Unit