The cost of arson in Rhode Island comes to millions of dollars each year, and the loss affects everyone through higher insurance premiums and higher taxes. The worst consequences, however, are not financial, but personal. Arson is a dangerous crime that devastates victims emotionally, financially and sometimes through injury or loss of life.
Recognizing the significance of arson, Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin has named a special prosecutor to work with the state fire marshal and municipal police and fire departments to combat the crime and prosecute arsonists.
Special Assistant Attorney General John Dean spent 15 years working as a firefighter and paramedic before becoming an attorney.
PBN: You’re now the state’s special arson prosecutor. Can you tell us what sort of experience you bring to the job?
DEAN: I grew up with firefighting, because my father and uncle were both firefighters. At 19 years old, I began serving as a paramedic with the Fall River Fire Department. After working six years in emergency medical services, I became a Fall River firefighter. Eventually I moved to North Carolina, and worked with a department down there for five years. At the same time, I earned a bachelor’s degree in fire-safety engineering at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. In 2005, I left North Carolina to attend law school at Roger Williams University. Going back to my firefighting days, I’ve had training in arson detection and arson awareness, and I’ve taken numerous courses concerning arson. I’ve also been an instructor at the Massachusetts firefighting academy.
PBN: Did you begin your career as an attorney in Rhode Island?
DEAN: I started out as a prosecutor in Massachusetts. I worked for the Bristol County district attorney from 2008 to 2010. Then I came to Rhode Island to work for the attorney general’s office here.
PBN: Tell us about the damage arson causes.
DEAN: The crime of arson can result in huge financial loses both to individuals and insurance companies, and these losses really do have an impact on society as a whole. I’ve seen the devastation first-hand, both as a firefighter and a prosecutor. [Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin] has shown he understands the societal impact, and is addressing it in a new and progressive way. We’re developing a new protocol for the firefighters and police officers and fire marshals who investigate these crimes. When there’s a murder in Rhode Island, local police immediately contact the attorney general’s office. And one of our people will join the investigation immediately to answer legal questions, to obtain search warrants or subpoenas, and to address interrogation issues. Now the attorney general is taking the same approach with arson. If there’s a fatality or significant property damage, I’ll go to the scene and work hand in hand with investigators. Anything that could potentially become an issue at trial, we address it right at the start.