Phoenix Police admit mistakes in stolen explosives case

ABC15 | September 6, 2011
By Christopher Sign

PHOENIX - Acting Phoenix Police Chief Joe Yahner wants to know which officer wasn’t watching the explosives at Sky Harbor International Airport when they were stolen Friday.

Amid the large crowd of travelers on Labor Day weekend, about a dozen Phoenix police officers conducted a training exercise with live explosives.

The exercise, taking place within Terminal 4 inside the nation’s ninth busiest airport, was not unusual according to Yahner.

“It wasn’t about Labor Day or the week leading up to the anniversary of 9/11. This was a typical exercise we do, in fact, we do hundreds of them throughout the year. It was normal for us,” said Yahner during a sit-down interview with ABC15.

What made this exercise different is one pound of explosives disappeared.

“We’re going to make sure this doesn’t happen again. It’s just not acceptable,” said Yahner.

Officers notified federal authorities as they frantically searched for the two tubes of stolen explosives which were inside a soft-sided cooler.

ABC15 has been told security cameras at the airport did not capture the theft on any of the dozens of cameras inside Sky Harbor.

In these types of training scenarios, a person referred to as the safety officer has the job to watch the explosives. Yahner confirmed that for this exercise, the safety officer only had one job to do, which was to keep a close eye on the hidden explosives amid the crowd.

“That’s really the crux of the matter right there," he said. "What was [the safety officer] doing? Why wasn’t he watching?” said Yahner from inside the police headquarters. “Our protocols are very specific. It's eyes on at all times and the eyes weren’t on it.”

ABC15 asked Yahner about those within the department who have voiced concern and frustration with the incident calling it a reckless act.

“Well I am concerned and I don’t know if any of those three words apply. I think it was a mistake, a mistake that won’t happen again,” said Yahner.

The explosives went missing Friday night. The public wasn’t alerted to be on the lookout for the missing explosives until late Sunday night. Yahner said thinking back on the situation, he probably would have notified the media earlier.

“We made sure we searched the airport high and low. We had to do a thorough search first," he said. "We also coordinated with all of our federal partners and thank goodness through your sources and your ability to get information out, we found it."

The soft-sided cooler containing the two tubes of explosives was found Monday morning along a road several miles from the airport.

Yahner says detectives are still working to find out who stole the explosives while internal investigators figure out how and why exactly the theft happened.

There’s also a chance, if any officers involved in the training exercise are found to be negligent, they could face federal charges.

“That’s one of the things we’re going to have to coordinate with our federal partners to ensure that if that’s the case, then that’s the case and it is what it is,” Yahner said.