CHARLOTTE – Imagine you're strolling along the sidewalk when something in the grass median nearby catches your attention: an army-green claymore. A military-style landmine.
That's exactly what prompted one resident to call police while walking Queens Road near Freedom Park in the Myers Park neighborhood late in July.
Sgt. Chad Strong, supervisor of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department's Arson/Bomb Unit, and Lt. Wes Jessup, a member of that unit, shed some more light on that scenario – and everything else they do – at a July 28 press conference.
"What it actually ended up being," Strong explained, "was a replica claymore… fashioned into a trailer hitch. You can buy these on Amazon actually … It ended up in the grass, facing up with a sign that says, 'Point Toward Enemy.'”
There may not have been any danger in this case, but the bomb squad supervisor was still grateful not only for the resident's call, but also for pictures the resident sent before the team arrived.
"That highlights the important partnership between the community and the police department," Strong said. "If you see something that just doesn't fit, we encourage you to call."
Whereas the bomb squad used to get about 60 calls a year, that number has increased over the past decade, surpassing 100 calls in years when Charlotte took on big events like conventions and games.
In light of a nationwide trend in illegal firework-making, Strong is worried the bomb squad's call volume will keep rising. The sergeant encouraged those who knew someone using, manufacturing or possessing illegal, homemade or improvised fireworks to call police.
“The reason homemade fireworks have such a danger to them is because there's no quality control in their manufacturing process,” Strong said. “They're mixing explosives that they have either made or that shouldn't be mixed and they're not aware.”
When materials degrade or dry out, DIY firework makers may experience consequences they weren't expecting.
Bomb squad technicians learn about these mistakes and much more during tech certification.
To become a certified bomb technician, Jessup explained, you have to become a HAZMAT tech first. Charlotte officers doing HAZMAT training typically do it at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ga. Then, aspiring techs complete a series of courses from the Department of Homeland Security and attend the FBI's Hazardous Devices School, also in Huntsville.
In addition, CMPD bomb techs complete 24 hours of extra training every month and 40 more hours of elective training throughout the year.
CMPD has 13 certified bomb techs, but its trained personnel aren't its only asset.
:We start with a robot,” Strong said. “If we can do everything without sending a bomb tech down range, we will.”
CMPD's bomb squad robots use five cameras, lift significant weight and disrupt small explosions with water projectiles made from 12-gauge shotgun shells. According to Strong, the robots "can do anything a one-armed person can do."
The bomb squad's other technology includes EOD bomb suits, X-ray scanners and more disruption tools.
Police said citizens torn on whether to dial 911 about a "suspicious or unattended device" should consider their surroundings and err on the side of caution if there are any significant buildings or events nearby.