Ohio is launching a statewide registry this year to keep track of convicted arsonists.
Arsonists — just like sex offenders — will be required to register annually with the county sheriff where they live under a law that takes effect July 1.
“This will get the arson investigators on the doorsteps of people who are likely culprits of repeated crimes much more quickly and will help save lives,” said state Sen. Tim Schaffer, R-Lancaster, who sponsored the legislation.
The list, being created and maintained by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, will be available only to law enforcement and not the general public. Ohio joins other states such as California and Montana with a statewide registry.
Arson is a major problem in Ohio. The FBI reported that there were 2,850 arson incidents in the state in 2010, the Ohio Legislative Service Commission said.
It’s unclear how many convicted arsonists live in Ohio. Attorney general spokesman Dan Tierney said more than 500 people are convicted of arson crimes each year.
This month, there were 315 men and women serving time in state prisons for aggravated arson, attempted aggravated arson or arson.
Under the new law, anyone convicted of an arson crime after July 1 or who is serving time in jail or prison for arson on that date must register.
Convicted arsonists are required to pay a $50 registration fee and a $25 annual fee after that to help maintain the registry.
Anyone who fails to register could be charged with a fifth-degree felony.
Lt. Robert Wroblewski with the Akron Fire Investigation Unit said the registry will be a good tool for investigators.
“Fire is just as deadly a weapon as a gun is,” he said.
Arson isn’t an easy crime to prove, he added.
“You have to be able to take the physical evidence and re-create what happened and determine the origin and cause, and then you have to prove that there is a malicious intention to set the fire or cause the fire to happen, and then identify who’s responsible,” Wroblewski said.
Akron fire investigators looked into 298 fires in 2011 — the latest year that statistics were available — and determined that 108 of them were intentionally set.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.