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Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


In Minneapolis, intentionally setting a fire is a crime too many offenders are getting away with. The city should move quickly to put more resources into arson investigations to bring perpetrators to justice.

Last year, there were 134 arson fires in Minneapolis; of those, only 10 arrests were made and three suspects charged — a case clearance rate of about 7.5% — according to a Star Tribune review of police data. The year before, in 2022, 104 fires were classified as arson, leading to five arrests and four suspects charged.

Nationally, reported the 2022 clearance rate was nearly 25% either by arrest or because of "exceptional means," or circumstance outside the control of law enforcement that prohibited an agency from arresting, charging and prosecuting the offender.

One critical reason for the poor rate in Minneapolis is the low number of investigators the city has to pursue the cases. For parts of 2022 and 2023, the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) had zero investigators to follow up on cases that fire officials deemed to be arson. That must change.

Staffing is a major reason arson cases go unsolved, Office of Community Safety spokesman Brian Feintech told the Star Tribune. Four Minneapolis Fire Department investigators determine whether suspicious fires were caused by arson. Those cases are passed along to the MPD, whose one arson investigator was hired last spring.

MPD's overall staffing problems persist. The department had nearly 900 active sworn officers in 2019 but only 560 last month.

In response to emailed questions from an editorial writer, a Minneapolis Community Safety spokesperson wrote that "Arsons are very challenging to investigate and solve" and "Staffing shortages continue to be a challenge in MPD and many PDs locally and nationally. There was a retirement that occurred in 2022 and a hiring process occurred during that period. Investigations continued with the MFD investigators and MPD supporting where necessary."

Of the 134 arsons in Minneapolis last year, the vast majority (more than 100) occurred in several north and south Minneapolis neighborhoods. City Council Member Jason Chavez, who represents some of the most affected areas, told the Star Tribune when cases go unsolved it can create tension and stress for neighbors.

"We need to be, one, making sure that we as a city are providing enough support for investigators to do their job," he said. "The other part is where these [arsons] are happening the most, I would start there in doing proactive prevention. … There's a lot of poverty in these areas, and we need to make sure that we can figure out how we can support these residents."

Neighbors can help prevent arson by watching what goes on in their communities and reporting suspicious acts. Part of the state Department of Public Safety, the Minnesota fire marshal operates an arson tip line at 800-723-2020, and rewards of up to $5,000 are possible for information leading to the identification of perpetrators. Lower award amounts are available for useful information that could prevent an incendiary fire or aid in catching a person who set one.

Most states treat arson as a violent felony crime. According to the National Fire Incident Reporting System, almost 17,000 acts of arson happen each year in the United States, causing over half a million dollars in property losses annually.

It's a serious, dangerous crime that calls for more investigation and prosecution. Minneapolis residents and property owners deserve better.