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Police Incorporate Marathon Bombing Manhunt Into Crisis Plan


Now, emergency officials who rushed to help victims of the marathon bombing have been credited with saving lives. But the manhunt, the search for the two brothers suspected in the case, leaves a legacy that is far more complex.

Fred Bever from member station WBUR reports.

FRED BEVER, BYLINE: Three days after the bombings, an MIT police officer was found murdered near campus. Within a couple of hours, a handful of local police had two suspects corralled on a back street in nearby Watertown.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: They say they have explosives, some types of grenades. They're in between the houses out here.

BEVER: A little before 1 a.m., a firefight broke out.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2GOVERNOR, MASSACHUSETTS: Loud explosions, loud explosions, loud explosions. Shots fired. Shots fired, shots fired.

BEVER: A transit officer was hit, possibly by friendly fire. Suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev was dead, while his younger brother Dzhokhar escaped into the darkness. Officers and SWAT teams from a startling array of jurisdictions streamed into the maze of Watertown streets. FBI, state police, transit police, Cambridge and Boston and Newton police - and more. But as dawn came, the second suspect was still at large. Governor Deval Patrick announced that to aid the search and protect the public, he wanted Watertown residents to stay inside and lock their doors, a request to shelter in place.

GOV. DEVAL PATRICK: Also, Cambridge, Waltham, Newton, Belmont, and at this point all of Boston, all of Boston.

BEVER: At dusk, the governor lifted the request. A Watertown resident checked on a boat in his backyard and discovered the other surviving Tsarnaev brother. Soon, the boat was surrounded by local, state and federal law enforcement.


BEVER: Officers opened fired, even though it appears no one gave that command. Then Boston Police Superintendent William Evans stepped in.

SUPERINTENDENT WILLIAM EVANS: Multiple shots fired here, OK. Everyone, hold their fire, hold their fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: All units, hold your fire, hold your fire.

HERMAN DUTCH LEONARD: That didn't sound like a completely organized setting.

BEVER: Herman "Dutch" Leonard and colleagues at the Harvard Kennedy School have been studying these events. In the initial firefight, he says Watertown police responded in a well-organized, tactical style. And he says the mix of the self-deploying officers would eventually organize into a more orderly series of search parties. But he adds that the challenge of establishing street-level command led to dangerous potential crossfire situations, although actual gunfire erupted only at the boat.

LEONARD: At what point does the next arriving police officer, instead of thinking what this situation needs is one more police officer with his weapon drawn, instead think, what this situation needs is someone to step back and bring some order to it?

BEVER: Watertown residents, meanwhile, are, on the whole, grateful. Kathleen Spivack stands near the spot where the younger Tsarnaev dumped a stolen Mercedes.

KATHLEEN SPIVACK: I think we should give them credit for being in a very confusing, scary situation. And now maybe is the time to rethink the training procedures, but not to look back and blame them because they didn't have them then.

BEVER: Many Watertown residents say they're OK with Governor Patrick's shelter in place request, too. But some saw it as a de facto lockdown order. Gabriel Camacho says six of his neighbors were told, at gunpoint, to leave their homes, cuffed with plastic restraints and questioned for as long as two hours. His entire neighborhood, he says, was effectively under house arrest.

GABRIEL CAMACHO: I didn't hear the governor say that he declared martial law, or the president say that. So I think it's very problematic that something like this can happen under our Constitution.

BEVER: Legal experts say it's a legitimate question, and that the length and breadth of the shelter in place request are unprecedented, but no one's filed a lawsuit. Boston police say they've received no complaints, while Watertown police have reached out to residents to hear any concerns about that night. As for lessons learned about street-level command, state authorities say they are already incorporating new guidance into their crisis management plans. For NPR News, I'm Fred Bever, in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Fred Bever

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