Inside SJPD The Bomb Squad - defusing explosive situations

What do you do with thirty-four pipe bombs, twenty-two Molotov cocktails and a collection of ammunition? Officers found such a deadly collection in the bedroom of 19-year old Al Joseph DeGuzman. An observant photo lab clerk alerted the police after processing photographs that showed DeGuzman posing with his arsenal. The young man's Columbine-inspired assault was thwarted before it could be carried out. To deal with DeGuzman's explosives and ammunition, the San Jose Police Department (SJPD) Bomb Squad was brought in. For several days, SJPD bomb technicians carefully worked through all the devices. For the Bomb Squad, there was no such thing as rushing through an assignment—meticulousness was an absolute must. Any error in handling the volatile materials could be fatal. Thanks to the great attention of the Bomb Squad, no one was injured or killed by DeGuzman's devices.

The SJPD Bomb Squad is a team of highly trained officers that responds to suspicious package calls, render suspicious items safe and make sure that any explosive-related item is handled safely. The officers, who work on the Bomb Squad, have an interest in and dedication to the work. The positions are not automatically assigned. Officers must actively pursue and apply to become a member of the team.

"I got involved in the Bomb Squad because I saw the terrorist threats that were happening overseas. And, I know that unfortunately that stuff always makes its way onto our shores. I wanted to be ahead of the curve. I wanted to keep myself and the public safe.". — Sergeant Robert Lang, SJPD Bomb Squad Supervisor

The origins of the SJPD Bomb Squad date back to 1962. Because of the Bay of Pigs crisis and the rise of Cold War tensions, a fear of clandestine attacks by Communists gripped the nation. A group of ex-military SJPD officers decided to establish an informal group in the department to handle suspicious objects. Any time a questionable device or explosives was discovered, these officers would go out and handle the situation. In 1971, the FBI and the U.S. Army established the Hazardous Devices School to train bomb technicians. The SJPD sent officers to be certified by the school and the SJPD Bomb Squad was officially established.

Every bomb technician undergoes a six week training at the Hazardous Devices School in Huntsville, Alabama. Currently, the school is overseen by the FBI and is the only school in the United States certified to train bomb technicians. Officers study chemistry, learn how to recognize lethal devices and acquire strategies for handling suspicious items. Because all bomb technicians receive the same basic training and use the same jargon, members of one bomb squad can help other bomb squads in large situations.

The Bomb Squad gives a one-day training session to every SJPD Academy class. The recruits learn what explosives look like and how they work. Then, they watch a demonstration of explosives out at the SJPD bomb range. Bomb Squad Supervisor Sergeant Robert Lang stresses the importance of the training, "From start to finish, we want the recruits to be able to identify what's dangerous and protect themselves and the public."

The SJPD Bomb Squad has evolved over the years to use new strategies and the latest technologies to deal with the sophistication of modern terrorists. The squad has a large selection of equipment including remote-controlled bomb robots. These automatons are sent into hazardous situations whenever possible to protect human lives.

If a robot cannot be used, the bomb technician wears a bomb suit when working in a dangerous environment. Although the suits weigh nearly 90 pounds and are cumbersome, bomb technicians are more than happy to wear them for protection in the event something goes wrong.

SJPD is a large police department with many diverse opportunities. Officers are not stuck in one job for their entire career, they can explore and work in variety of units. They can focus on areas of their interest and calling.

"The Bomb Squad is a great and challenging assignment. Being a bomb technician is a field where you only get one chance to do the job right ... and, you have to do it right every time. The department spends a lot of energy, time and money training us so we can go do our jobs safely. It's a very rewarding job. The last thing I would want is for someone to get hurt by something I could have helped prevent." — Sergeant Robert Lang, Bomb Squad Supervisor

Interested in joining the SJPD team? Visit www.sjpdYOU.com.

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Photos by Kara Capaldo, Brook Dain and Curt Fukuda

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