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Bomb Squad

bomb_squad_suit.jpgEncompassing 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 9,000’ high mountains to 2,000’ 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, 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 Department Bomb Squad. Originally the squad was comprised of four Pima County bomb technicians supporting seven jurisdictions, the Tucson International Airport and two international ports of entry. The Pima Regional Bomb Squad has been expanded and now includes three elements; Technician Element, Investigative Element and Explosives Detection Canine Element. Administrative and operational functions of the squad are defined in an Intergovernmental Agreement, a Memorandum of Understanding and a detailed 90 page Standard Operating Procedures manual, which has been emulated by squads all over the US.

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 Investigative Element consists of personnel from several different agencies with specialized training in investigating explosives related cases including 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. Investigators train as a unit once a month and the program mirrors the ATF Certified Explosives Investigator program.

In 2011, five explosive detection canine teams assigned to Regional agencies were brought under the bomb squad and assigned to the Explosives Detection Canine (EDC) Element. This methodology allows for a unified bomb technician and EDC response and provides advanced explosives specialty support to regional canine handlers.

In 2012 the squad integrated SWAT Tactical Medics into bomb squad responses, providing advance ALS support to bomb technicians at all calls.

The Technician Element is comprised of eight US Army/FBI trained and certified bomb technicians and an FBI Special Agent Bomb Technician. This element provides technical and investigative support to the investigative and explosives detection canine element, conducts protective counter IED sweeps, render-safe and explosives disposal operations and support to the Pima Regional SWAT Team. The Pima Regional Bomb Squad is unique in that technicians are from regional agencies and serve under the Sheriff’s Department’s FBI Hazardous Devices Program Bomb Squad Accreditation. While there are other regional bomb squads in the US, most are merged bomb squads. Pima Regional’s true regional umbrella and operating methodology is one of a kind.

As an element of Pima Regional SWAT, overall supervision of the unit is tasked to a Pima County Sheriff’s Department Bomb Technician Sergeant assigned to the 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. A leader in Tactical Bomb Tech and Dismounted Operations, Pima Regional members are called upon to instruct at various federal schools.  These schools include the National Center for Explosives Training and Research and FBI Hazardous Devices School Commander’s Course.  Squad members provide expert testimony in state and federal court cases and sit on the National Bomb Squad Commander’s Advisory Board; the leadership element of the U.S. Bomb Squad program. This board gives strong advice to federal agencies that support bomb squads regarding bomb squad related issues and acts as the final decision making authority on guidelines and standards for the profession. Squad members have also received international training from other nations including the Israeli National Police Bomb Squad.

The squad is supported by a 2010 Braun Northstar GMC 5500 4x4 21’ command vehicle, a one ton 4x4 truck with custom built utility body, three 3/4 ton 4x4 response vehicles, five 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.

The squad also assists the Tucson Police Department Bomb Squad within the City of Tucson as needed and the Arizona Department of Public Safety Explosives Unit, ATF and FBI across southern Arizona. The squad works closely with the United States Border Patrol as the lead counter IED team to Tucson Sector border operations. Providing one of the nation’s only advanced explosive recognition and IED awareness courses for the Border Patrol, the squad provides a four hour classroom course of instruction quarterly and an eight hour range and practical exercise day bi-annually to ensure agents operating in Pima County and the surrounding region have the most current and highest level of awareness to perform their mission more safely.

Since its inception, the squad has conducted numerous state and federal level 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 was proven in this successful case. Cases investigated by the squad are prepared for issuing to both federal and state level prosecutors. 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.

The Pima Regional Bomb Squad is also involved in 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, the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, US Customs and other federal assets can have driving response times as long as four 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 an equipment load-out of just less than 250 pounds can be transported via helicopter to remote and outlying areas in a fraction of the time it would take to drive.  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.

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