Illegal fireworks are a growing problem in Los Angeles. Photo from Pixabay.
Photo from Pixabay.

Members of a Los Angeles Police Department bomb squad who detonated a cache of illegal fireworks in South Los Angeles last year — causing a huge explosion that displaced numerous residents from their homes — ignored the warnings of an expert team member who said the cache should be broken into smaller portions, according to a report set to be discussed by the city’s police commission Tuesday.

The expert, identified as “Bomb Technician C,” expressed concern about the amount of explosives “on several occasions” before the detonation, according to the report conducted by the Office of the Inspector General of the Los Angeles Police Department.

“Based on my experience and everything, I said, `Uh, this is too much to do one shot, we’re gonna break them up, right?”’ the technician reported saying to a colleague, according to the report.

The technician believed that both the quantity and weight of the fireworks being placed into the department’s “total containment vessel” was too powerful for the vessel to control.

“This is too much material to (dispose of) in one TCV shot,” he said, according to the report. The expert said his warnings were dismissed by both his colleagues and his supervisor.

“They basically told me that they had already done the calculations, that they were well under the net explosive weight that the TCV could handle,” he told investigators, according to the report.

The June 30 detonation on East 27th Street near San Pedro Street sent 17 residents and first responders to hospitals, destroyed a bomb squad truck and damaged 22 residences, 13 businesses and 37 vehicles.

The Los Angeles City Council passed legislation on Sept. 21 to identify $5 million — in part from the LAPD’s budget — to assist recovering residents.

The report found that the LAPD Bomb Squad’s standard operating procedure “does not address specific requirements for physically weighing explosive materials” or any requirements or circumstances for when a disposal product should be taken to a designated safe area for detonation.

It also found there was a “lack of active supervision” at the scene and that one of the detectives “took a hands-off approach to his duties in an attempt to make his subordinates feel more comfortable.”

Councilman Curren Price, who represents the neighborhood, said Monday in response to the Inspector General’s report, “Since day one, I have asked for accountability and continue to insist that the individuals responsible for this disaster face appropriate disciplinary action.”

“The latest development clearly establishes that what occurred was preventable and is highly inexcusable,” he added. “I expect LAPD to follow through with policy changes so that this catastrophe never happens again anywhere in the city. We must learn from this epic failure. LAPD must do better.”

The report issued several recommendations to the department, including having the department review its training policies and schedule to ensure that all personnel have received the minimum annual training requirement.

It also said the department should require appropriate measuring scales be included as mandatory equipment in each bomb technician utility truck, and update its policy to mandate comprehensive documentation of evacuations.

The report also recommended that the department assess whether fatigue played a role in the bomb squad’s decision making process leading up to the explosion.

“All of the bomb technicians assigned to this incident had been working since the early morning, prior to responding to the 27th Street scene,” the report states. It recommended the department implement adjustments to employees’ schedules to minimize fatigue when appropriate.

The report’s final suggestions were for the LAPD to work to instill a culture within the bomb squad that allows technicians to fully share dissenting opinions while in the field, encourages supervisors to take an active role in the planning and decision making process and emphasizes and reinforces precision and technical expertise.

According to Inspector General Mark Smith, the report was conducted using all relevant documentation about the incident, including the Bomb Squad’s standard operating procedures, a list of all vehicles, equipment and maintenance logs used by bob technicians, and bomb technician training records going back five years.

The Office of the Inspector General also interviewed city staff and submitted questions directly to the LAPD and U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

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