Of course, there's no guarantee that an honest reply will be forthcoming. When two southern Kentucky police officers asked John Preston if he had any hidden threats inside his home, Preston reportedly told them no. But while trying to remove a shotgun from a gun cabinet, both officers were nearly killed when a rigged trigger caused the weapon to discharge. Aside from suffering hearing loss, the officers were uninjured. Preston ended up facing additional felony charges.
One way to determine if you might be facing a booby trap threat is to consider the personality and actions of the subjects you are dealing with. Certain personalities are red flags. Consider the multiple homicide suspect determined to go out in a blaze of glory. The Columbine shooters rigged a series of explosive booby traps; so too have other suspects who were determined to take out as many people as possible by any means possible.
After eight people were killed in Appomattox County, Va., earlier this year, a tactical team making entry into the crime scene located an explosive booby trap allegedly left behind by suspect Christopher Speight. And inside the Texas mobile home where Dep. Shane Detwiler of the Chambers County (Texas) Sheriff's Office was shot twice in the head and killed, authorities recovered more than 100 homemade explosive devices and booby traps that his killer had fashioned.
Regardless of who you're dealing with, remember that just about anybody can make booby traps. And the know-how is readily available on Websites and in books such as the "Anarchist's Cook Book," "Malice Aforethought," and "Deathtrap."
And just about anything can constitute a booby trap. Taut wire has been rigged between trees in an attempt to maim or kill ATV-riding border patrol agents. Rigged firearms, incendiary devices, and precariously situated heavy objects have been exploited effectively. Even starved canines and exotic animals such as black mamba snakes have been used. One man opened his mailbox and was bitten by a rattlesnake that had been left inside.
But perhaps the most pervasive threats are combustibles. Often, there are telltale signs, and unless your subject is a "do-it-yourself" Bondo, plaster, and duct tape kind of guy, you might want to consider the presence of such things possible red flags.
Spotting the Trap
Explosive devices, including booby traps, have been responsible for the deaths of patrol officers and arson investigators alike, with some 73 law enforcement officers killed by bomb blasts in the United States. Among these victims was recognized LAPD bomb expert Det. Arleigh McCree who was killed in 1986 by booby trapped pipe bombs.
Technology is helping to identify such threats. Property profiling can help as well. Windows that have been covered up can be a telltale sign of everything from a marijuana cultivation site to a paranoid anti-government type. Also look for disproportionate attention given to video surveillance systems and other electrical devices on properties that aren't otherwise maintained. Indeed, overgrowth itself may conceal threats such as bear traps and Punji stake-filled pits.
While many agencies go out of their way to train their SWAT personnel on booby trap threats-indeed, many SWAT competitions have booby traps included in their exercises-Sgt. Derek Yoshino of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department believes law enforcement can do more to teach its patrol personnel how to anticipate and deal with booby traps.
To that end, the department has in the past conducted a "Hogan's Alley" kind of training for its patrol personnel: Deputies were put through a house that had been rigged with a variety of booby trap devices. The deputies' sole objective was to identity the threats (as real threats would generate a response from experts trained in defusing such devices).