SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - When a series of suspicious fires pop up and arson is suspected, law enforcement officials across California have a handy tool that could help track down or rule out potential suspects.
“In California there’s a criminal arson registry put on by the California Department of Justice,” said San Diego Police Sgt. Rick Pechin with the Metro Arson Strike Team.
“What that registry does is keep track of all arson registrants in the state of California.”
The registry is similar to the Megan’s Law database, but it is not available for the public to access.
“It’s a law enforcement computer database only,” said Pechin.
Once someone is convicted of the crime of arson, they must add their name and address to the registry 14 days after they get out of jail or prison.
Offenders can even land themselves on the list even if they slip up just once, like burning a pile of an ex's clothing.
“Sometimes it was a onetime mistake they may have made in the heat of the moment and it got them on the list for the rest of their lives,” said Pechin.
Pechin and his team of detectives with San Diego’s Metro Arson Strike Team recently used the arson registry after a number of fires erupted across Ocean Beach and Point Loma in September.
In the specific case, surveillance video revealed who investigators believed was starting the fires.
With the description of the possible suspect, a fairly tall, white man with a thin build, MAST investigators went through the arson registry searching for people known to re-offend in the area.
His description helped rule out a number of potential suspects.
“It’s just as important as a tool used to exclude someone as it is to include them as a possible suspect,” said Mechin.
There are random compliance checks for offenders on the list.
“The compliance checks are basically just to make sure they still live in the same location that they gave the local police department when they moved in that area,” said Mechin.
If the offender has moved, they must notify local law enforcement of their address change.
Pechin said officers have had some problems keeping up with chronic offenders.
“If we find out that they are out of compliance we will try to track them down and they can be arrested,” he said.
Although the registry helped rule out a number of known arsonists In the Point Loma and Ocean Beach suspicious fires case, a suspect was never arrested.
Anyone with information is asked to call San Diego Crime Stoppers at 888-580-8477 or the San Diego Metro Arson team at 619-236-6815.