Encompassing 9,184 square miles, Pima County is located in south central Arizona. With a population of over 1 million people, its largest city is Tucson, AZ. There are 7 smaller jurisdictions with individual law enforcement agencies operating within Pima County. It shares 132 miles of border with Mexico and it varies geographically from high mountain to low deserts and rural to densely populated areas. These factors offer unique challenges to the public safety community. Law enforcement has sought progressive and innovative ideas in an effort to overcome these challenges
In 2005 the Pima County Sheriff’s Department formed a partnership with metropolitan Tucson law enforcement agencies and created the Pima Regional SWAT Team. This is an ongoing, combined effort of the following agencies: Pima County Sheriff’s Department, Oro Valley Police Department, Marana Police Department, Tucson Airport Authority Police Department, Sahuarita Police Department, Pasqua Yaqui Tribal Police Department and South Tucson Police Department.
The program found such success that in 2009 the effort was expanded to the Sheriff’s Bomb Squad. Originally the squad was comprised of four Pima County bomb technicians supporting 7 jurisdictions, the Tucson International Airport and two international ports of entry. Currently the squad has been expanded to two elements.
A multiagency investigator element was formed which consists of personnel with specialized training in investigating explosives related cases such as post blast and render safe scenes, clandestine explosives manufacture operations, and improvised explosives device cases. This element is comprised of five investigators from area agencies and an ATF Special Agent. The long term goal of this program is to mirror the ATF Certified Explosives Investigator program.
The second element, made up of FBI certified bomb technicians, is comprised of 6 bomb technicians and an FBI Special Agent Bomb Technician. This element provides technical and investigative support to the investigative element, conducts protective counter IED sweeps, render-safe operations and support to the Pima Regional SWAT Team.
An element of Pima Regional SWAT, overall supervision of the unit is tasked to a Pima County Sheriff’s Department sergeant and bomb technician assigned under the Sheriff’s Tactical Response Section. The squad also staffs two hazardous materials technicians, two Terrorism Liaison Officers, one ATF Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator and one ATF K-9 handler. Squad members possess a secret clearance or higher.
The squad is supported by a 2010 Braun Northstar GMC 5500 4x4 21’ command vehicle, 1 one ton 4x4 pick-up with custom built utility body, 3 three quarter ton 4x4 response vehicles, 5 robotic platforms, advanced radiation and explosives detection equipment and a full inventory of explosive render-safe tools. A basic response team to calls for service consists of two technicians and one to two investigators.
This collaborative effort is intended to centralize all explosives and IED investigations in Pima County, allow ownership from all agencies serviced by the bomb squad, pool counter IED resources into one unit and maintain a consistent relationship with prosecutorial entities. These benefits allow us to serve the citizens of Pima County in a more professional manner with uniform standards.
The squad also responds to calls for assistance from the Tucson Police Department Bomb Squad within the City of Tucson as needed and the Arizona Department of Public Safety Explosives Unit across southern Arizona.
Since its inception, the squad has conducted several IED investigations involving multiagency response as a centralized investigative resource. One incident involved an IED located along a drug and human smuggling road. The Technician Element handled the initial response and attempted render-safe; the FBI Evidence Response Team was used for post-blast evidence collection, and ATF CES Agents conducted the laboratory requests and investigative follow-up. The use of a regional collaborative effort has already shown its success. Cases investigated by the squad are prepared for issuing to both federal and state level prosecutors. Investigators train as a unit once a month and technicians every other week. All squad members receive the same advanced training and utilize like equipment, uniforms, communications equipment, and enter cases into ATF’s Bomb and Arson Tracking System.
Administrative and operational functions of the squad are defined in an Intergovernmental Agreement, a Memorandum of Understanding and a detailed 60 page Standard Operating Procedures manual.
One project the Regional Squad is involved in is a Hazardous Devices Air Support program. This project is an answer to IED related calls in remote and outlying areas of Pima County. These calls, generated by US Border Patrol, Pima County Sheriff’s Border Crime Unit, US Customs and other federal assets can have driving response times as long as 4 hours to some areas. Other responses can be entirely inaccessible by vehicle. To efficiently respond to the incidents the Pima Regional Bomb Squad has joined efforts with the US Customs Air Branch. Utilizing the Customs Blackhawk helicopters, Regional personnel and a set equipment load-out of just less than 250 pounds, can be transported via helicopter to remote and outlying areas in a fraction of the drive time.
All technicians receive a familiarization course from Customs pilots, are required to conduct training load-in and load-outs and maintain a record of their body weight while geared up to assist pilots with fuel capacity and flying weights.
PRBS members have diligently pursued outside funding sources for the wide array of specialized vehicles and equipment needed to effectively deploy its resources. As a result, a majority of these items have been purchased with state and federal grant funds. In total, the PRBS has acquired more than $2 million in response, safety and investigative equipment through various grants in less than two years and at no cost to the Pima County Sheriff’s Department or other participating agencies.
A short time ago, four Pima County Sheriff’s Department bomb technicians responded to incidents in a 1994 utility vehicle. The squad realized progress was imperative to its success. The tremendous growth and advancement of the Bomb Squad in the time frame of less than two years speaks volumes of the hard work, dedication and commitment of all of its members, local and federal.
The team work and dedication of the technicians and investigators assigned to the Pima Regional Bomb Squad have resulted in a unit which serves the greater Tucson area in a more efficient and professional manner. This has led to numerous successful prosecutions of persons involved in the use of explosives and IEDs to further criminal causes.
« Return to Support Operations Division