Police chief doubles as lone bomb technician
Kingman Police Department Chief Larry Butler is the only specially-trained bomb technician in Kingman, but he will soon have company.
Two other KPD officers, Sgt.
Dave Turk and Officer Dennis Gilbert, both with military backgrounds in explosives, will be sent to a federally-run school in Alabama in April to be certified by the FBI as bomb technicians, Butler said.
Butler said he became interested in becoming a bomb technician when he was in the Navy and later as a civilian working with explosive devices on aircraft ejection seats.
Butler, who was trained at the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama while he served as a KPD police officer from 1974 to 1993.
He returns to Alabama every few years for additional training to keep up with the latest technology, he said.
Besides classroom training at Redstone, potential technicians will go into a specially designed building rigged with pretend explosives.
Instead of actual explosions, flash bulbs will go off when a student makes a mistake, he said.
"It's almost an impossible task," Butler said.
"When the flash bulbs go off, you're dead."
When a student finds a device, they have to figure out what kind it is and disarm it.
Devices can be under a rug, in windows, doors, almost anywhere in the structure, Butler said.
Bombs usually found in Mohave County range from crudely made pipe bombs, like the one found recently on Diagonal Way in the Butler area, to leftover dynamite from old mining operations.
Butler said that over the years he has seen about 10 homemade pipe bombs like the one found New Year's Day.
"I've found hundreds and hundreds of blasting caps or old dynamite," he said.
Black powder dynamite is the explosive most commonly found in the county because of the numerous former gold and silver mines that dot the area.
Old dynamite, some with nitroglycerin in it, can also be the most dangerous because of its instability, he said.
Old military ordinance is also commonly found, usually leftover from the army base once located at the airport.
People also discover World War II-era hand grenades and other devices in their attic and turn them in KPD, he said.
But it is the homemade bombs, called basement bombs, that worry Butler the most.
Butler said most injuries occur to those who build homemade bombs.
He has seen kids who have lost fingers or severely injured hands while making homemade bombs.
"What they build in their basement has the potential to kill people," Butler said.
"They are certainly not toys.
Parents need to keep an eye on their kids.
It's not a big secret.
You can build anything off the Internet."
Butler said he is called out about once a month to check out reports of a suspicious package.
But not all such packages turn out to be bombs.
One package left at a courthouse was only a gift to one of the judges, he said.
Once a bomb is found, the typical and safest way to dispose of it is to simply attach an explosive device to it and blow it up.
This is usually done at the department's firing range, Butler said.
One piece of equipment in the department's arsenal is a $12,000 bomb suit that can protect the wearer against fragments from a blast.
The 70-pound full body suit also includes a protective helmet.
However, during the hot summer months, the wearer can't stand to wear the suit for very long, he said.
Another piece of equipment is an X-ray machine that can detect the insides of a suspicious package.
The department also uses a computer that, once attached to the X-ray machine, can see inside a package in real time without waiting for the film to be developed.
The department also uses a disrupter, a wicked-looking weapon that, that can fire a shot severing the firing device on a bomb and breaking the connection.
Butler said his team usually works around Kingman and the neighboring area but will go to either Golden Valley or Dolan Springs.
The police department at Bullhead City has two of its own bomb technicians, but Lake Havasu City is without a technician, Butler said.
Mohave County Sheriff's Office also does not have bomb technicians and will call in Butler's growing bomb squad at KPD.