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Fire at Hemet police site is probed for link to attacks

The blaze broke out about 2 a.m. Monday at a police shooting range. Since January there have been four incidents targeting gang task force officers and city property.

April 13, 2010|By David Kelly

Authorities are investigating whether an early morning fire Monday at a Hemet police shooting range was yet another attack on the department, which has been hit with repeated booby traps over the last three months.

The fire at the remote training facility off Warren Road broke out shortly after 2 a.m.

Much of the building was destroyed in the blaze.

"In light [of] the incidents involving our department over the past three months, we are investigating the possibility that this is related, but we will not speculate at this point until the investigators are able to complete their work," said Hemet Police Capt. Dave Brown.

Police have been on high alert after four attacks on the department and city property since January. The City Council is expected to vote Tuesday on a resolution to help fortify local buildings against assault.

The first attempted attack came on New Year's Day when someone scaled the offices of the Hemet-San Jacinto Valley Gang Task Force and redirected natural gas lines inside the building in hopes of causing an explosion. It didn't work.

Next, a homemade firearm was rigged to go off when gang officers opened the gate to their parking lot. The bullet narrowly missed an officer.

The third incident involved what police said was a deadly device affixed to the bottom of an unmarked police car.

The device fell off before it could activate.

On March 22 someone threatened to burn a police car, and the next day four code-enforcement trucks were torched behind City Hall.

The council resolution, if approved, would declare an emergency so that fences, barriers, security glass and other defensive measures could be installed more quickly without the need for a lengthy bidding process.

The resolution cites law enforcement intelligence as saying city-owned buildings are likely targets in the future. Topping the list is the Police Department, which already has closed off some sidewalks around the building and increased surveillance of the area.

"Intelligence reports indicate that the police facility is the likely focus of future criminal acts," Brown wrote in a memo to council members. "Immediate action is required to harden these facilities."

Police formally have named no suspects in the attacks, though they suspect that they are the work of gang members upset over crackdowns in the last few months.

There is a $200,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever is behind the attacks.

david.kelly@latimes.com

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