BOSTON (CBS) — Massachusetts State Police says it is all too aware of the danger of homemade explosives and booby traps. The ongoing concern about hidden lethal devices prompted the FBI, Boston and State Police to offer awareness training recently for regional SWAT teams.
Trooper Michael Szawlowski with the MSP bomb squad told the I-Team that the SWAT teams always go in first to dangerous situations, and if the officers aren’t trained and don’t have experience in what to look for, it could be catastrophic. Teaching officers to look for the signs that something is potentially wrong gives them an opportunity to take a step back and call for the Bomb Squad.
Police in Hingham say they took a step back last month in a domestic incident during which a man barricaded himself in his home and allegedly began shooting at officers. At one point, officials say he threw an explosive device at them, but it didn’t go off.
That standoff ended peacefully with the suspect in custody, but police say others do not.
Braintree Lieutenant Tim Cohoon is also a SWAT commander for METROLEC, a consortium of law enforcement agencies. He tells WBZ-TV that his unit recently responded to calls where explosive devices were present.
In the abandoned Hanover Mall, the I-Team got an exclusive behind the scenes look at what the SWAT teams are being trained to look for. Instructors hid explosives and bomb-making materials in what appear to be ordinary harmless items, including what looked like children’s jump ropes, but were really detonating cords.
According to Trooper Szawlowski, what can’t be seen – and potential booby traps – can be deadly. He tells the I-Team it is a concern that law enforcement has seen nationally.
In 2012, near disaster was avoided after the Aurora Colorado movie theater shooting. Police went to the suspect’s home to execute a search warrant and learned the suspected gunman allegedly rigged his apartment with bombs designed to kill anyone who tried to enter.
Lieutenant Cohoon says one of his biggest fears is the SWAT team entering a building and breaching a door to save a hostage, unaware that that door was armed.
Another potentially dangerous incident unfolded in Everett on Christmas Day a few years ago. SWAT teams were dodging bullets while a barricaded suspect was holed up in a house. He eventually surrendered and moments later his home went up in flames.
Just last September, a Fitchburg man blew up his condominium with IEDs, or improvised explosive devices. Investigators found his body in the rubble surrounded by bombs.
Bomb tech instructors say when every second counts, everyone on the team needs to know how to spot the red flag. SWAT leaders like Cohoon know this training won’t make them experts in bomb detection, but it could help officers recognize some of the threats.