USA — Police are calling for Victorians to be their “eyes and ears” – using mobile phones, cameras and video to capture people acting suspiciously and help catch arsonists.
A database of firebugs is being collated as official crime figures show arson is on the rise.
Since Black Saturday, police have been retrained in bushfire awareness and investigations procedures as part of their focus on firebugs.
And Acting Premier Rob Hulls has said arsonists should prepare to have the book thrown at them. Judges from across Australia will also discuss “community perceptions of light sentencing for arson offenders” when the National Judicial College of Australia meets in Canberra on February 7.
But the State Government says it does not know whether police will visit convicted and suspected firebugs on high-risk days – which officers in South Australia have been doing since 2001. Police will not reveal whether they do, citing operational reasons.
It comes as more than eight suspicious fires have hit bushland in the past two weeks and figures have revealed the number of acts of arson in Victoria increased from 2784 in the 2004/05 financial year to 3462 in 2008/09. And police are still hunting:A FIREBUG who has started dozens of fires along the Hume Highway since 2000;
A MOTORCYCLIST believed responsible for a fire that killed three people in the Dandenong Ranges in 1997; and
THE people who started the deadly Black Saturday blazes in Marysville and Bendigo’s Maiden Gully.
Uniformed and plain-clothes police and officers from the CFA, DSE and Parks Victoria during the week patrolled high-risk areas on days of extreme fire danger and will continue to do so.
The arson squad’s detective Acting Sergeant Russell Baird said catching firebugs came down to chemistry, science and witnesses, pleading with residents to film, photograph and report anyone acting suspiciously.
“Arson is one of the hardest crimes to solve,” Sgt Baird said.
“Any information can be vital from description of cars, registration numbers to photos and mobile phone video.”
Meanwhile, Canberra has fast-tracked new laws forcing tobacco companies to make cigarettes that snuff themselves out.
The high-tech cigarettes – designed with paper “speed bumps” so they extinguish automatically – will now be introduced in March, six months earlier than planned.