UCPD bomb squad provides services to other cities free of charge

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Of all of UC Berkeley’s well-known faculty, perhaps the most infamous is Ted Kaczynski, a promising young math professor who later became most recognized as “the Unabomber.” His homemade explosives injured a campus professor in 1982 and a campus graduate student in 1985, among others.

In the 1970s, a series of bombings occurred throughout the United States, including Kaczynski’s, which targeted universities and airlines. Because the FBI did not have adequate resources to respond to the threat, it instituted a free training program for bomb response and disposal by local law enforcement, according to UCPD spokesperson Sgt. Sabrina Reich.

In exchange for the FBI-sponsored training, Reich said, the trained local authorities would be expected to provide free services in their region.

“UCPD participates in the FBI’s free program because it provides value to our campus community,” Reich said in an email. “Its purpose is to keep our campus community safe and minimize lost productivity for students, staff and faculty.”

Reich noted that UCPD has memoranda of understanding, or agreements, with the California Highway Patrol, Contra Costa County, Marin County and the city of Rohnert Park in Sonoma County.

“Since we do not pay for training, it is considered a regional asset and we do not charge our community for the team’s use,” Reich said in her email. Reich noted that the FBI pays for the training and recertification of officers.

Berkeley Police Department maintains its own bomb squad, although it uses UCPD’s under certain circumstances, such as the unavailability of BPD’s own technicians, according to BPD General Order B-3, which concerns bomb-incident procedures.

For the city of Rohnert Park, UCPD’s services are more cost-effective than other options, such as the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office’s bomb squad, which charges a fee for its use, according to Don Schwartz, the assistant city manager.

Brian Masterson, Rohnert Park’s director of public safety, said the annual fee required by the county’s sheriff’s office “seemed not to be a very good model.” In 2008, Masterson said, each city was required to pay an annual fee for use of the sheriff’s bomb squad, though the sheriff’s office has since changed its fee-service model, now basing it on time and resources.

“In six years, since we’ve had the contract, we’ve used (UCPD’s bomb squad) three times,” Masterson said. “We’re not a city that has a lot of need for the bomb squad.”

In contrast to the fee model, Rohnert Park pays “absolutely nothing” to use UCPD’s bomb squad, not even transportation costs, Masterson said, although Rohnert Park is about 50 miles away from Berkeley.

“It is an ancillary duty, so no dedicated personnel are assigned,” Reich said in her email. “As such there are relatively minimal costs related to some officer salary and transportation … costs for a call out.”

Contact Patricia Serpa at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @pserpa_dc.