By Sue Favor
LOS ANGELES — The Police Commission has called for a comprehensive report of the Los Angeles Police Department’s bomb squad training, following a report last week that procedural disagreements within the unit led to a large explosion in a South Los Angeles neighborhood last summer.
After seizing the cache of homemade explosives at a home in the 700 block of East 27th Street the morning of June 30, the squad detonated the materials that evening. The blast blew apart the containment vehicle and destroyed much of the surrounding area.
Thirty-five properties were damaged — some made uninhabitable — and 37 vehicles were damaged in the blast. Seventeen people were taken to the hospital with injury, and some whose homes were destroyed have since left the area.
Inspector General Mark P. Smith’s office investigated the sequence of decisions made prior to the detonation and concluded that members of the bomb squad ignored warnings from one of their senior technicians, who cautioned that the amount of explosives was too much to be done at one time.
His report was presented to the Police Commission March 1, which was followed by the commission vote to have Smith’s office due another report on bomb squad training.
The incident began when LAPD officers received a tip about someone selling illegal fireworks in an alley behind East 27th Street on the morning of June 30. Officers sent to the scene found 26-year-old Arturo Ceja selling fireworks. They seized 280 M80-sized devices and 44 larger devices, each the size of a soda can. Bomb squad officers X-rayed the contraband to determine the amount of explosives in each.
One member, identified in the report as Technician C, expressed concern about the quantity of explosives to be detonated “on several occasions.”
“Based on my experience and everything, I said, ‘uh, this is too much to do [in] one shot, we’re gonna break it up, right?’” Smith’s report said, quoting the technician.
Four other bomb technicians were present when he made his concerns known and they told him they had done the necessary calculations and determined that the weight of the explosives was under the maximum that the detonation container could handle.
Later, Technician C told Technician E, “I have a bad feeling. … This is not good. … This is too big,” the report added.
Technician E told C that “he needed to relax,” and that it would be OK. Technician C later raised the same concern about the weight of the explosives to Detective A, who also told him to relax.
The report concluded that the incident was a “catastrophic failure” that resulted from supervision deficiencies and a lack of required training for personnel.
Among the recommendations made by Smith were:
- LAPD should review the Bomb Squad training policies and ensure all personnel receive adequate annual requirements.
- The department should assess what role fatigue had in the decisions made prior to the detonation.
- And the department should work to improve communication between members, as well as supervisors.
Deputy Police Chief David Kowalski told the Police Commission that the department is already taking steps to implement the recommendations. The Bomb Squad has a new supervisor, and eight new team members, as those involved in last year’s incident are still on paid administrative leave.
Chief Michel Moore also told the commission that the department will soon finalize disciplinary proceedings for those involved.
Residents were angered by the incident, as was Ninth District City Councilman Curren Price, who represents the neighborhood where the blast occurred.
Price has set up a relief fund for residents who have been affected by the explosion. He hailed the inspector general’s report as a step forward toward healing for the community.
“As we approach the eight-month mark of the explosion that rocked 27th Street, the gaping wound of negligence has reared its ugly head once again, leaving us dumbfounded that this was handled so poorly in our South L.A. community,” Price said. “Since day one, I have asked for accountability and continue to insist that the individuals responsible for this disaster face appropriate disciplinary action.
“The latest development clearly establishes that what occurred was preventable and is highly inexcusable,” Price added. “I expect LAPD to follow through with policy changes so that this catastrophe never happens again anywhere in the city. We must learn from this epic failure. LAPD must do better.”