You are the lead investigator for a suspicious fire in an abandoned tenement property at 123 Maple Street in a rundown area of the city. You are called by the battalion chief and fire scene commander at the active fire. Upon your arrival, the chief explains that there are pour patterns clearly indicating that an accelerant was used to start the fire on the first floor of the four-story tenement, and he has declared it arson. While you are talking to the chief, a line captain comes from the fire and tells you that there are 2 dead bodies in the basement of the tenement. The battalion chief calls the fire over and safe, releasing the fire scene to you. The state fire marshal has also called and advised that because of manpower shortages, your agency has lead. You have two investigators with you who immediately ask, "Where do we start?" You must now give them the proper legal guidance to avoid any evidentiary pitfalls.
Arson fires and, in particular, arson homicides allow for a warrantless crime scene search in most jurisdictions, but it is your experience that a warrant is always better. Instruct your personnel in what the appropriate initiation of the investigation should be.
To avoid issues with evidence collection, what do you think should be done about the scene? Explain.
Who should be brought in immediately? Why?
Where should you look for the owner of the property? Why?
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There are standard procedures that should be used in investigating arson. Particularly, when there are dead bodies, these procedures tend to be delayed. This is to establish probable cause of the fire. Geberth (1990) noted that...
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