The House of Representatives passed a bill this week to create a national registry of arsonists, a system modeled after California’s electronic database that tracks sex offenders.
The proposed registry would give law enforcement and fire officials access to a national resource cataloging convicted arsonists and bombers from every state.
While most states have their own registries, they are independent, and many do not match up with all of the requirements of the proposed database.
The system would function like the Megan’s Law sex offender registry in California, which plots convicts on online maps and lists them with photographs and information about the crimes they committed.
While that database is available to the public, the arson registry will be restricted to use by authorities.
Inspired by recent California wildfires, the proposed database will give officials the ability to compare the trends and habits of a wide range of convicts with facts from cases under investigation, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, one of the bill’s authors, said in a statement.
“The Station fire is a prime example of the devastation and destruction that arson can cause,” Schiff said. “Having worked on arson cases as a federal prosecutor, I know firsthand the potential a Megan’s Law-type registry holds to help law enforcement catch arsonists and prevent additional fires.”
Two firefighters were killed battling the 160,557-acre Station fire, which authorities believe was started intentionally. The blaze also damaged or destroyed 102 homes and 48 commercial properties.
Capturing arsonists who start wildfires could be easier if officials could easily see whether similar methods that were used to start fires under investigation were also used by convicted criminals in the past, law enforcement officials say.
“Our law enforcement and fire officials deserve this valuable tool to better prevent criminal acts of arson,” Republican Rep. Mary Bono Mack, the bill’s other author, said in a statement.
“In California, we know all too well the incalculable damage that can be caused by wildfire, and it’s always exponentially more devastating to learn that such disaster was caused at the hand of an arsonist . . . it is time we pass this legislation so that law enforcement officers can stop arsonists in their tracks and prevent unnecessary catastrophe.”
Law enforcement officials have applauded the effort to provide more searchable information for investigations, but the American Civil Liberties Union has raised questions about how extensively.
EPA grants to replace diesel engines
The Environmental Protection Agency announced $26.5 million in grants Thursday to help promote clean vehicles in Southern California.
The funds will be used to retrofit and replace diesel engines in construction vehicles, cargo-handling equipment, school buses, heavy-duty trucks and locomotives in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson joined Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at the Port of Long Beach for the announcement, which will help address problems in the area managed by the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
“The 16 million residents of the south coast can breathe cleaner air and live healthier lives,” Jackson said. “Putting green innovation, sustainable technology, and clean energy into action at these ports — our gateways to the global economy — will also send a powerful signal to the world that we can ensure our economic strength at the same time we protect our health and our environment.”
Schwarzenegger applauded the grants, which he said would demonstrate the benefits of going green.
“California is once again proving that what is right for the environment is also good for the economy,” Schwarzenegger said.
“This funding will further California’s progress in cleaning our air while also supporting and creating green jobs, pumping up local economies and helping protect the health of Californians.”
Bills to expedite evidence process
Congress passed a pair of bills meant to create an easier system for authorities to grant evidence for international criminal investigations.
One of the bills, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, will allow international prosecutors to easily seek information from fewer sources, rather than having to wait for every jurisdiction connected to the inquiry to first process the request.
“The current process is inefficient and burdensome for federal prosecutors across the country, and adds unnecessary hurdles to the efforts to catch criminals,” Schiff said in a statement. “The important changes in this bill will greatly improve crime-fighting abilities at home and abroad.”
Cooperation between international and domestic investigators is critical to obtaining information on domestic and international organized crime organizations, intellectual property violators, identity theft, drug cartels, purveyors of child pornography, and other criminal threats, according to Schiff’s office.
Page offers resources for fire victims
Officials activated a new interagency website and phone hotline this week to help Station fire victims rebuild their homes and get information about assistance programs, among other uses.
The Coordinated Agency Recovery Effort also includes information about reinforcing homes and protecting them from mudslides, fires and other hazards.
The resources were initiated by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich.
The website is envisioned as a “one-stop” resource for affected residents and features information from California’s Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Forest Service, among other agencies.