Capt. Rick Syroka listens to a question from Jenny Meyer of Toledo during a meeting downtown between Block Watch leaders and fire officials to talk about the city's arson epidemic.
About two dozen Block Watch leaders were clapping Thursday night as they learned that two young arson suspects were being questioned just about the time they met to discuss the topic.
A phone call interrupted Toledo Fire Capt. Rick Syroka with the news during a presentation for Block Watch leaders about the 37 percent rise in arsons and a recent string of vacant house fires.
The two boys were arrested in connection with a small fire in a room at 1809 Broadway about 7 p.m., Toledo police Sgt. William Wauford said. Scott Burrell, 12, of Prouty Avenue, and Taveon Hodges, 13, of Orchard Street were taken into custody as they came out the back door. They were charged with arson and booked into the Juvenile Justice Center.
"Really, this is only the tip of the iceberg," Captain Syroka told the cheering group.
The city recently doubled the Crime Stopper reward offered for tips that lead to conviction in relation to more than two dozen suspicious fires since late November. Up to $10,000 is being offered for information about the suspected arsons, including at least 11 committed in East Toledo.
"We're hoping that the money will help someone make up their mind to turn somebody in for us," Captain Syroka said.
Fire investigators need witness statements to combat the rash of arsons, which most recently appear in "the east side by day, the south end at night," Captain Syroka told Block Watch leaders at the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association's hall yesterday.
The arson epidemic has worsened so much since last year that "it almost seems like someone declared war on the city of Toledo," Tim Allan, a Block Watch leader in East Toledo, said. "Captain, what are you asking us as leaders to do?" Mr. Allan said.
"Go back to your coalitions and plead with them," Captain Syroka said. "We have to have an actual eyewitness step forward. Report things that are out of the ordinary, but take a mental picture of that person."
Most of the suspicious fires have been at vacant homes that have alley access, and many were tagged with graffiti "signatures" that may be gang-related. Captain Syroka acknowledged comments that the city is slow to board up vacant homes, and added that boarding "doesn't stop them, it slows them down."
Joan Rowe, a leader from North Toledo, said she was frustrated to see vacant homes in her neighborhood deteriorate to the point that windows are gone.
"They look like they're ready to fall out," she said. "And kids are around there, and they're looking in. What do we have to do to get it torn down?"
Captain Syroka said homes cannot be torn down unless there is a structural issue.
"I know that's not the answer you want to hear," he said. "I know everybody is frustrated with the vacant houses and it is a sign of the economy. Hopefully we'll get out of it."
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