GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A reward program that’s put thousands of arsonists behind bars for decades is going away.
The Michigan Arson Prevention Committee program has led to more than 12,200 arrests or convictions since 1975, including a serial arsonist who burned garages in the Grand Rapids and Kentwood areas in 2010.
Investigators knew the risk to public safety that firebug posed. They also knew how tough it would be to get him off the street.
“The thing about arson as opposed to other crimes is the evidence largely burns up, so we have to go by circumstantial evidence, and sometimes it’s very difficult,” explained Grand Rapids Fire Marshal Ric Dokter.
But investigators got a break in the form of a tip to the Michigan Arson Prevention Committee, which offers a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction of anyone on arson related charges.
It led to the arrest of Joseph McIntyre, a 24- year-old man with a long history of setting fires. He was convicted of several arson related charges.
Now the tip program that led to McIntyre is in peril.
The Michigan Basic Property Insurance Association, which represents insurance underwriters throughout the state, has funded the tip program and related costs for several years. But in a letter to the Arson Prevention Committee, the association’s board says they’ve decided to cut much of that funding.
“Michigan Basic’s statement back to us was that they didn’t feel that they should be the sole funding source for the Michigan Arson Prevention Committee,” explained Patrick E. Riney, Jr., executive director of the Michigan Arson Prevention Committee.
Michigan Basic offered to continue funding the tip program for $37,500 a year. But the group won’t cover the additional $80,000 that pays for one full-time position and other expenses, such as signs and advertising for the tip program.
With no one else stepping up to fund the program, the Michigan Arson Prevention Committee will cease to exist Jan. 1, eliminating an important asset in the fight against one of the most difficult crimes to solve.
“Any benefit that we can gather to get (an) arsonist off the street is important,” Dokter said. “And this is just one tool we won’t have in order to do that.”