Crime

Police in Hemet, Calif. Targeted by Booby Trap Attacks

| by Mark Berman Opposing Views

Four municipal trucks were set on fire in a rural Southern California town that has been plagued by bizarre booby trap attempts to kill police officers. Authorities think the fire may be linked to the earlier attacks.

Someone called police late Tuesday night to report a fire in the parking lot at Hemet City Hall, located about two blocks from the police department, Police Chief Richard Dana said. No one was hurt. Dana said early indications were that some kind of flammable substance was used and not an explosive.

"Everyone is worried, everyone is being careful," Hemet police Lt. Duane Wisehart said. "You get scared a little bit and then you get angry. It keeps happening."

Hemet, located about 90 miles southeast of Los Angeles, has been rocked by a series of booby trap attacks against police officers in recent weeks.

"We are operating under the theory (the fire) is connected to the other assaults," Dana said.

On Dec. 31, a natural gas pipe was rerouted into the headquarters of a gang task force. The building filled with flammable vapor, but an officer smelled the danger before anyone was hurt.

In a second attack, some kind of ballistic device rigged to a security fence at the same building went off when an officer opened the gate, but the bullet missed.

The third attack involved a deadly device found under a police officer's unmarked car after the officer drove to a convenience store.

Dana said there has been at least one other booby trap uncovered, but he declined to release details. In the past week or so, officers have received threats daily, either on their non-emergency telephone lines or via e-mail.

"They say things like, 'It's too bad they missed, the next one's gonna get you,'" Dana said.

Investigators believe the attacks are the work of more than one individual, partly because of the sheer volume of activity.

Wisehart said a confidential informant last week overheard two people talking about how they were going to blow up a Hemet police car over the weekend. The informant told the Riverside County Sheriff's deputies, who notified Hemet authorities.

Police said they are investigating several groups as the possible culprits, including an outlaw  motorcycle gang. A $200,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the attacks.