A crack, arson task force created to squelch a rash of animal-rights-related arson attacks has gone up in smoke after an agent from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms was reassigned.
The Interagency Fire Investigation Unit was a group of experts from Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County and the U.S. government brought together after arsonists attacked a West Jordan McDonald's to protest its use of meat.The task force also helped build cases against protesters who fire-bombed several Salt Lake County mink farms.
But citing personnel constraints and the need to focus on the 2002 Olympics, the ATF removed its last agent from the task force. Other agencies followed, agreeing to formally disband the unit Aug. 10.
"It was kind of a domino effect," said ATF spokesman Larry Bettendorf of Phoenix. "We still have manpower and equipment available to investigate arson and assist any way we can."
One ATF agent on the task force was transferred earlier. Then, several weeks ago, the unit lost its office space when the ATF told city and county officials it needed the room for four new officers.
A new headquarters was not found, and when the ATF removed its final officers, Salt Lake City and County officials opted to reassign their members as well.
At one time, seven officers and a golden Labrador retriever named D.J. worked for the task force. The dog has been reassigned.
"It was working really good. Everybody that was involved can't believe it is going by the wayside because of manpower restraints," said county fire Capt. Dennis Barker, who was task force commander.