Date: Thu, 03 Oct 2002 23:14:24 -0700 (MST)
From: thekoba  (K J WALSH)
Subject: bomb squad and swat team
Cc:,,, snail , thekoba 

Dear Joel,

Today's session was held at the Police Academy and Firing Range site at South Mountain Park on the south end of 15th Avenue. A group photo had been planned, but most of the attendees were late owing to downtown traffic, and by the time everyone was there the sun had set, and they had no flash bulb for the desired outdoor shot.

The presentation was in two parts. The first was the bomb squad given by Sergeant Chuck Mount. The second was the Special Assignments Unit (the Phoenix PD term for SWAT team) given by Sergeant Mike Torres.

Sgt. Mount indicated that diffusing bombs is only a small part of what the bomb squad does. He indicated that they specialize in any illegal weapons or weapons owned by prohibited posessors and also in security preparations for celebrities (he didn't specifically mention the arrest of Eleanor Eisenberg, though he did say they did security for Bush). He said the usual profile for bomb makers were young white males who were experimenting and didn't mean harm to anyone but often caused great harm to themselves by following some half-baked internet advice. He also said a major problem was old explosives that were stored for some legitimate purpose (e.g. mining) but were forgotten. He said that old dynamite was particularly dangerous as it broke down into nitroglycerine and could spontaneously detonate if moved carelessly.

He said police bomb training was five weeks at a school in northern Alabama run by the FBI and was far inferior to what the military had and still wasn't adequate for those without extensive experience to know what to do in many situations. He said that where there was a bomb that was not an imminent threat to human life, they did not dispose of it in person but sent in the robt to handle it. He said the robot cost about $140,000. He also showed us the suit bomb squad members wore when they had to handle a bomb directly. Of course no mere item of apparel could perfectly protect someone from a bomb blast, but these very heavy items might mitigate injury.

We went outside to the detonation range, and we were given earplugs. Black powder was burned in the open and then detonated in enclosed containers to illustrate the different reaction of explosives to containment. Detonation cord was also demonstrated. We were given a look at the robot and told some of its capabilities.

When we went back in, one of the officers came in with a bomb-sniffing dog and discussed its training, about six months and how the Phoenix Police Department had a specialization policy (e.g. dogs are not cross- trained but only trained in one area, only bomb-sniffing, only dope- sniffing, only tracking etc.). He said that the dog was not trained in the smell of all explosives, as some Soviet explosive and Middle Eastern explosives were not available here for training.

Sgt. Torres of the swat team stressed that their goal is not to kill people but to end a crisis peacefully if possible. He said that most of their calls were for high-risk search warrants or barricade situations. Barricade situations were categorised as four types:

1. trapped criminal 2. mentally ill 3. suicidal 4. terrorist

He said the mentally ill were sometimes called "frequent fliers" as they were sometimes encountered more than one. He admitted never having encountered a terrorist situation in his career. He said the trapped criminal scenario often became the suicidal scenario as the criminal determined there was no escape. He also said that many of the barricade situations involved domestic violence situations and that this was increasing.

We were shown the usual weapons. There was a tazer and some gun that fired rubber batons as relatively non-lethal weapons. He claimed the tazer had never been known to kill anyone. I've heard otherwise. Strangely he did not discuss beanbag shotguns. Among the obviously lethal weapons were a submachinegun, a .223 rifle, and a .308 sniper bolt-acton rifle. The submachinegun we saw had 9 mm ammunition, but he told us they were transitioning to .40, as 9 mm didn't have adequate stopping power. All the ammunition was hollow-point and obviously designed to kill and seriously wound rather than merely incapacitate. The submachinegun has a very limited range and is used in the close quarters of the interior of a building being raided. The .223 rifle is used by point persons of the SWAT team, and the .308 is used by snipers. I was told that contrary to television depictions, snipers often find other positions besides roofs and try to be where their oponents won't expect them. Another weapon was a non-lethal concussion grenade that momentarilly stuns persons in a room into which it is thown. It was demonstrated on our classroom by surprise, but I was not impressed. It was loud and annoying, but had I been under fire, I could still have continued fighting without interruption.

The negotiator spoke for a while. He said that the FBI calls negotiation a science but that he didn't believe it was. He frankly said it was the art of bull-shitting the opponent and manipulating him or her into doing what law enforcement wanted and sometimes merely to distract that person from an impending attack. Those facing a swat team would be wise to ignore the negotiator and pay attention to what is going on arond them.

Next week we go back to headquarters to learn about DUI and drug enforcement.


Kevin Walsh

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