The next time you leave your briefcase lying around at a police station, make sure it's labeled--otherwise it just may get blown up.
That's what happened Thursday after Sgt. Horace Frank of the Los Angeles Police Department's Van Nuys Division spotted an unmarked briefcase in the station's parking lot.
After numerous computer messages went out to the squad cars and no one stepped forward to claim the nondescript brown case, the LAPD's bomb squad was called in.
Two houses in the area and part of the police station were evacuated for more than an hour while the three-person bomb squad figured out how to disable the briefcase, which was on top of a block wall next to the watch commander's parking space.
Using a special rifle, they shot the case with a specially designed bullet, causing it to explode. This is common practice, they said, when suspicious objects are found at or near police stations.
"We treat it as if it's an explosive or a bomb," said Lt. Steven Allen, a member of the LAPD's bomb squad. "Until we determine it's not."
But it turned out that the briefcase, now decorated with a hole the size of an apple, actually belonged to an LAPD traffic officer who had gone home.
"It looks like it got run over by an RTD bus," said Lt. Winthrop Taylor of the Van Nuys station.
Police would not identify the officer because they said he might be disciplined for not appropriately labeling his briefcase. All personal possessions must bear the officer's name, Taylor said.
Sgt. David Twitchell of the Van Nuys station recalled a similar incident last Christmas when the bomb squad was called out to investigate a tin can discovered sitting on the hood of a police car.
In that case, the bomb squad determined the can was harmless and opened it up, only to find inside a batch of cookies from neighbors who wanted to show their appreciation for two officers who had helped them out.
That tense situation would have been avoided if the appreciative neighbors had simply left a note of thanks, Twitchell said.