Owners of burned cars will face new reporting requirements after the Committee on Public Safety approved its only agenda item–an ordinance aimed at reducing toxic car fires in the city, increasing coordination between arson investigators at the Chicago Police and Fire Departments, and stopping insurance fraud.

“This closes a loophole,” Ald. Matt O’Shea (19), the chief sponsor explained, saying it lets CPD and CFD investigators work together as soon as car fires are reported. “There were more than 900 vehicles burned last year in the City of Chicago. That’s an astronomical number.”

Attendance: Chairman Ariel Reboyras (30), Gregory Mitchell (7), Anthony Beale (9), Patrick Daley Thompson (11), Matt O’Shea (19), Nicholas Sposato (38), Anthony Napolitano (41), Ameya Pawar (47)

“Yearly, the National Insurance Crime Board, they’ve seen about a doubling in the amount of auto fires that’s reported to them,” Michael Murphy of the Chicago Fire Department’s Office of Fire Investigation told aldermen, sometimes criminally, to cash in on insurance claims. He estimates while his office conducts upward of 1,200 fire investigations a year, only 15 to 20 are for car fires. “A gross number are going uninvestigated.”

Murphy says the new ordinance would require those who own a car damaged by fire to make an appointment at CFD’s Office of Fire Investigation. The car owner would meet with staff from CFD and a staff from CPD’s Arson Division, and file a report attesting to the accuracy of their claims. Interviews would be similar to those conducted for house or garage fires. Car owners would have to provide identification, proof of car ownership and insurance information to cross-check with city records. Based on that interview, CPD and CFD investigators would then be able to determine whether the fire required more investigation. “We’re going to coordinate very closely,” Murphy says.

Roger Krupp with the International Association of Arson Investigators said the ordinance would be “groundbreaking,” and he hoped it will work as a deterrent for would-be arsonists hoping to fraudulently cash in on insurance claims. “It makes people think ‘I’m not going to go through this, there’s too much to get this insurance money.’”

The Chicago Police Department’s Sgt. Richard Sliva told aldermen “There were 916 vehicle fires in Chicago in 2015. The Arson section responded to approximately 133 of those fires… that leaves a big gap of people we didn’t talk to.”   

Former firefighter Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41) said the ordinance was long overdue. “Every year that we’re fighting auto fires, they’re getting worse and worse… they’re so toxic… they’re so combustible. You’re not just putting a car out, they’re exploding on you as you put them out.”