Bill expanding arson investigators’ powers advances

TRENTON – A bill to expand arson investigator powers was unanimously released by the Assembly Judiciary Committee today.

A1374 would broaden the powers of municipal arson investigators. 

The bill grants arson investigators the same powers as police officers to investigate arson. Currently, these arson investigators are limited to exercising such police powers within their municipality while engaged in these duties.

Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker, (D-28), Newark, addressed concerns about the bill allowing such personnel to carry firearms.  She said it’s a matter of safety.  “Sometimes they arrest very violent people,’’ she said.

Also, it’s a matter of timeliness and efficiency, allowing them to do the same job as a police officer who may not be able to respond promptly, she told the panel.

Committee Chair Peter Barnes III, while supportive, raised concerns and pointed out a distinction regarding the high level of training police personnel have.

“They do carry firearms now,’’ said Assemblyman Ralph Caputo; this is a matter of affording protection for investigations that necessitate crossing borders of municipalities.

Pension concerns also were raised regarding eligibility under PFRS, the Police and Fireman’s Retirement System, and whether such personnel would or would not qualify under PFRS regulations given these expanded powers.

The Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey pointed out, for instance, that an arson investigator title often is not recognized on its own; such personnel usually carry other unrelated jobs as well.

Opponents also said counties have arson units, but Caputo, a co-sponsor, said it seemed to him this was basically a “turf war” going on between different law agencies. He said the pension problem is a different issue, but he saw no problem with allowing the firearms to be carried.

Bill expanding arson investigators’ powers advances