Bombs: A Deadly Threat to Police Officers

by Craig W. Floyd, Chairman & CEO, NLEOMF
Published in American Police Beat, March 2009

Los Angeles Police Detective Arleigh McCree was widely recognized as one of the top explosive experts in the world. He was in charge of the bomb squad assembled for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. He had helped investigate the 1983 bomb blast at the Marine barracks in Lebanon. In fact, his reputation was so great that Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy once offered him $140,000 to train terrorists.

He was the man his department always called in whenever there was a bomb threat. On February 8, 1986, Arleigh McCree got the call. That morning, police had gone to the home of Donnell Morse, a Hollywood makeup artist. He was a suspect in an earlier shooting and police were there to search for the gun used in that crime. They found a gun, but they also got another surprise: two pipe bombs in the garage.

Detective McCree and another member of the bomb squad, 17-year police veteran Ronald Ball, were immediately summoned to the scene. The two officers examined the bombs and determined they were live. They also came to another alarming conclusion—the bombs were booby trapped.

Detective McCree warned his fellow officers of the danger and everyone but himself and Officer Ball backed away. The officers then began to diffuse the bombs by hand. That’s when the explosion occurred. Detective McCree was killed instantly. Officer Ball was rushed to the hospital and died a few hours later.

Throughout history, 73 law enforcement officers have been killed by bomb blasts. Some, like Detective McCree and Officer Ball, died because it is their job to disarm bombs before they harm innocent citizens. Others were targeted by bomb-wielding terrorists. More than a few were simply in harm’s way when trouble came calling — a common problem for law officers.

The first known bombing incident to take the life of a police officer occurred on May 4, 1886. Seven Chicago police officers were killed when a bomb exploded on a city street. The bomb-throwing incident was part of the “Haymarket Riot,” a tragic civil disorder centered around a labor dispute. Killed in the blast were Patrolmen Mathias J. Degan, John Barrett, George Miller, Timothy Flavin, Thomas Redden, Nels Hansen and Michael Sheehand. Some 70 others in the crowd were injured in the bombing.

Even under the most favorable conditions, explosives can still be extremely dangerous, especially those that are illegally manufactured. In 1992, Special Agent Johnny Masengale with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) was working with a team of federal and military explosives experts at Fort Lewis, Washington, preparing to destroy a highly volatile mixture of explosive materials that had been seized the day before. As they were preparing for a controlled ignition, the materials detonated prematurely.

On December 12, 2008, law enforcement officers responding to a bomb threat at a bank in the town of Woodburn, Oregon, discovered a suspicious case in the bushes nearby. As they attempted to secure the case, it exploded, killing Woodburn Police Captain Thomas Tennant and Oregon State Police Senior Trooper William Hakim.

To read Mr. Floyd’s article in full, click here.