Monthly Archives: April 2013

Kerrian’s Notebook, p. 74 “The Bomb Squad”



Bomb Squad Teams (also called Hazardous Devices Teams) put their lives on the line to keep the crazies from blowing up innocent bystanders. It’s one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.


Bomb Squad Teams have been around for over one hundred years; the first official squad was formed in New York City as a result of criminal violence in 1903. During WW1, when the munitions industry in Europe mass produced shells for the war effort, bomb disposal units were needed because not all the bombs exploded upon impact. Specialists (the guys brave enough or foolhardy enough) took the trigger mechanisms apart and/or neutralized the bombs. There wasn’t a lot of protection for the bomb squad, but the people standing by were at least asked to move back or the houses were cordoned off.


As the techs got better at their jobs, delayed action fuses were added to the mix by bomb makers, all with the goal of terrorizing the public and disrupting military routine. In WW2, the English were bombarded nightly, for months on end, and EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) was faced with the added challenge of specially designed anti-handling devices. Purpose? To blow up when the techs tried to disarm them.


Along with the military, law enforcement personnel all over the world have been dealing with bomb disposal for decades. The job calls for work on unexploded two-ton shells uncovered during excavation, land mines that shoot shrapnel into whoever is standing close by, homemade bombs, suicide bombers, and unfortunately, much more. If we are lucky, the bombs are discovered and ‘rendered safe’ before they detonate on their own or can be set off by remote control.


The Academy Award winning movie, “The Hurt Locker,” gives us a glimpse into the life of a soldier who specializes in this work.


A few months ago, I had a chance to attend a Police Academy demonstration of the various special teams that a North Carolina county employs. Below are pictures of some of the gear needed in order to reduce the risk to the Hazardous Devices Team.

Bomb Squad Teams in the USA wear body armor that can weigh 70 pounds (including everything you see in the photo) Not only is it heavy, it feels like you’re in a sauna when you’re suited up.



One attendee tried on part of the gear during the demonstration on a hot day in September. She couldn’t get over how heavy the outfit was, and how hard it was to move in it, and she didn’t even have the pants on yet.



Whenever possible, bombs are dealt with by using a robot. It can be directed and controlled from within the Hazardous Devices Truck.


I mentioned K9s as being a great asset to law enforcement in “Does your town have a K9 unit?” Some of these dogs are trained for sniffing out narcotics, missing persons and cadavers, but a special few work with Bomb Squads. Bloodhounds and Malinois are frequently used as bomb sniffers – so highly trained and diet restricted that they can smell chemicals in the middle of a person’s fast food meal.


A big ‘thank you’ to all the Bomb Squad personnel who face these challenges every time they suit up!

Sound like a job you’d like to take on?



*Photos by Patti Phillips, taken in Guilford County, North Carolina at a Writers’ Police Academy.








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Kerrian’s Notebook, p. 73 “What is AFIS?”




Anyone who has watched TV crime shows during the last decade has heard of AFIS. It stands for Automated Fingerprint Identification System. In 1924, the FBI started a fingerprint identification system. They fingerprinted several thousand prisoners incarcerated at Leavenworth, and stored their prints on cards.


Today, the system has widened to include international prints as well, is an electronic database of 70 million, and contains the prints of people who have been arrested at every level of crime. The FBI also includes prints of people fingerprinted as a result of employment, or security assessments purposes such as authorized Federal background check programs and military service. The latest FBI version is named IAFIS (I is for Integrated).




As a rule, fingerprint examiners use the Henry Fingerprint Classification and Identification method when looking at the details in prints or partial prints. The average number of bits of information on every complete print is between 100 and 150. There are distinct ridge patterns to look for in a print: arches, loops and whorls.










65% of all fingerprint patterns are loops,


                                                                                                                         30% are whorls




and only 5% of fingerprint patterns are arches.


Thumb prints are the prints most often left at a crime scene, because people use their thumbs for leverage when pushing through doors or opening safes, or grabbing those golf clubs to use as weapons, etc.


Identifying 8-12 points of similarity between an unknown latent print found at a crime scene and one in the AFIS database is the standard for declaring a match, but some jurisdictions want more for absolute certainty.  An examiner plots the print in question for distinct characteristics, makes notes to that effect before sending the print off and waits. AFIS & IAFIS return a list (sometimes as many as 30) of possible matches. At this point, the examiner reviews the possibles and chooses the best match in his/her opinion. And, it might not be the first on the list. Then, another examiner verifies the possible match. There is no such thing as an instantaneous match with just one print from the AFIS or IAFIS databases. TV tells us otherwise, but sorry, that’s merely for dramatic effect.


Other interesting fingerprint details:

*We know that no two people can have the same fingerprints, but not even the same person’s prints are identical.

*Some people have all three types of ridge patterns on one finger.

*Only positive matches from the state AFIS are verified by examiners; not the negative ones.

*Palm prints are now in the AFIS database.

*AFIS looks for change of direction in the whorls, loops, and arches in order to find a match.

*There has not been a case yet where the DNA has not matched the fingerprints at the scene.


The photo below shows a positive match between a latent print and one in the database. The latent is on the left. The database print is on the right. This match placed the suspect at the scene and along with other evidence, resulted in a conviction.


AFIS match



A potential candidate for the job of Fingerprint Examiner would have to compare dozens of sets of prints a day.  My partner and I were always giving the guy who did it every day a hard time, because it looked like a cushy job. He finally had enough of the jokes, so he bet that we could not even make matches on cases that had already been closed. He gave us 16 pairs of prints and gave us 15 minutes to make decisions. We looked for cluster highlights, tented arches, spots, bifurcations and other techy details.


Guess what? The lines began to blur, and we could not correctly identify all the matches. We apologized to him and took the guy out for a beer after work.


TV makes it look easy, with a click and a less than five-minute response time from IAFIS. Not possible, with 70 million fingerprints to choose from. This is not an easy job.


*Photos taken by Patti Phillips at the Sirchie Education and Training facility in Youngsville, NC.







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