Police: Response to suspicious packages didn’t hamper normal operations

Becky Campbell • Mar 12, 2013 at 9:17 PM

The resources expended Monday for Johnson City police to investigate a series of suspicious packages — ultimately found to contain mugs and plates left as gifts — left at four businesses in town did not interfere with normal police response to daily calls, according to local officials.

“We held six officers over from night shift,” to help secure the scenes, JCPD Maj. Karl Turner said. That freed up day shift officers to answer ongoing calls for service.

In addition to holding those officers over — anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes — the department also called out the Explosive Ordnance Device team, or bomb team in layman’s terms, to inspect and retrieve the packages.

As it turned out, the contents were harmless, Turner said, but he continued to decline releasing the name of the man involved. He said the gifts were meant to be “anonymous,” and since there were no charges the police department intended to respect that.

In addition to JCPD, the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were also involved in the investigation.

Special Agent Michael Knight, ATF public information officer for Tennessee, said there are three categories of “suspicious packages.” One is a real device, the second is a hoax device and the third is something harmless that causes unintentional fear.

“It was not intended to cause fear or alarm, but based on the society we live in all those have to be taken seriously,” Knight said.

As soon as the ATF learned about the packages, agents sent out requests throughout the country to determine if the incident was isolated to Northeast Tennessee.

After determining the packages were only located in the three jurisdictions here — Johnson City, Unicoi County and Bristol — agents focused on investigating the incidents.

“Part of the reason it took a while is whenever you deal with suspicious packages — and all the bomb squads did a phenomenal job — they looked at each one as if it was the real deal,” Knight said. “The methodical approach in taking care of these devices and clearing the devices,” is important, he said.

Knight and Turner both said the person involved had no criminal intent to threaten anyone or cause fear, which is why there are no charges against the man. Knight said he was unaware of any charges in the other jurisdictions as well.

Knight also said resources used for the investigation are nominal when it comes to public safety.

“No matter what case it is … when it comes to public safety, we don’t worry about overtime. Tomorrow we could have a copycat where there are real devices, or next week in Johnson City or anywhere in the county we could have an incident where there are explosive devices. We don’t want to become complacent,” he said.

“It’s worth it because we don’t want any law enforcement officer to be hurt or killed and we don’t want anything to happen to the public,” Knight said.

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