Suburban police played a key role in bombing investigation
It had already been a bad start to the week for Milton Police Chief Richard G. Wells Jr. when he got a phone call from his counterpart in Canton midafternoon on Patriots Day wanting to know if he’d heard that something really serious had happened at the Boston Marathon.
Wells had not heard. His Monday had been dominated by the investigation into the fatal stabbing of a 22-year-old resident the previous night. It was the town’s first homicide of the year, and the killer was on the loose.
But within an hour and a half of the deadly terrorist attack near the Marathon finish line, Wells and 10 of the department’s tactically trained officers, including a bomb-sniffing K9 unit, had rushed to the expansive crime scene in Copley Square and to other areas of the city that needed to be secured amid the chaos, including Faneuil Hall and hospitals.
“It was the last thing I thought I was going to be doing last week, I can tell you that,” Wells said.
Milton’s contingent was among 100 specially trained officers that had been mobilized to aid Boston Police investigators through the Metropolitan Law Enforcement Council , a consortium of 42 regional police and sheriff departments.
And they were among the hundreds of other police officers from communities across the state who descended upon the city, working 12- to 18-hour shifts at a time, on the heels of the twin bombings that killed three and wounded more than 260, and finally to Watertown late last Thursday and early Friday, where a massive manhunt for the two suspects culminated with the death of one and the apprehension of the other.
With the focus now shifting toward the recovery of those injured in the bombings and the federal case against 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, law enforcement officials in communities around Boston are reflecting upon the week that was, and getting ready to tally up the financial toll on their departments.
Since being alerted to the bombings, Wells split 12-hour shifts between Boston and Milton up until 5 p.m. Saturday when Boston Police officially closed the mutual aid operation.
“There was a lot of handshaking, a lot of thanks,” Wells said. “You realized when you left there, you just witnessed an event that most people could never imagine.”
From the bombings on Patriots Day to last Thursday, when President Obama and Michelle Obama arrived in Boston for an interfaith service and later visited the wounded in hospitals, area police departments staffed Boston with a multitude of officers and special units working at least 12-hour shifts, most of it overtime, area chiefs said.
For Obama’s visit alone, the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs , an organization for departments staffed with at least 75 police officers, deployed 330 officers from various communities at the request of Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis, said Brian Kyes, Chelsea’s police chief and the group’s vice president.
With Obama declaring a state of emergency, some of those costs are expected be covered by Federal Emergency Management Agency funds. A spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency said the agency will eventually have a complete list of police departments that assisted in the bombing aftermath and manhunt, but that could take weeks or months. A spokeswoman for the FBI’s Boston division indicated that exact numbers could be hard to track since many police officers may have volunteered to help.
Arlington Police Chief Frederick Ryan, who sent 30 officers to Boston and then Watertown, including some trained in SWAT operations and others on motorcycles to patrol streets, hasn’t had a moment yet to calculate the total cost.
But he said that during the response operation, cost was never part of the equation, particularly when it became clear Thursday night that the two suspects had killed MIT Police Officer Sean Collier and seriously wounded MBTA Officer Richard Donohue Jr.
He said 30 off-duty officers had asked to be sent to Watertown to help with the manhunt. In their thoughts, he said, was Krystle Campbell, one of the victims killed by the bomb explosions, who had recently moved to Arlington.
“I think the fact that one of the deceased victims lived and worked in Arlington provided an additional motivation for our police officers,” Ryan said.
The department had an encounter with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev last year when, after receiving calls about a loud Fourth of July party, officers encountered the then 18-year-old sitting in the passenger side of his Honda, with an underage friend in the driver’s seat. Tsarnaev had been drinking and was cited with a parking violation, and his friend with having an open container of alcohol, Ryan said, declining to elaborate because the file was turned over to the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and is part of the bombing investigation.
Lawrence Police Chief John J. Romero, who sent 24 officers, including a SWAT team, to Boston and Watertown, said members of his department had a strong desire to help any way they could.
“They wanted this guy caught,” Romero said. “They wanted to be a part of it. This was an attack on all of us.”
He said it’s too soon to determine the personnel costs of the past week, “but whatever the expense, it’s something we have to do. We were there to help out.”
Plymouth Chief Michael E. Botieri went, along with eight officers and an armored vehicle, to help Boston in the days after the attack and then to assist in the Watertown manhunt. He said the experience was eye-opening.
“These officers and everyone that was there, the special units, they trained for this,” Botieri said. “But this was a little different because it was a terrorist. You add the component of improvised explosive devices, that’s not something we train for on US soil, that’s more military tactics. It was an added danger to the situation.”
Newton Police Lieutenant Bruce Apotheker, who was among the first to assist after the bombings by halting the race for many runners a quarter-mile past Heartbreak Hill, said the department took officers off their regular details in Newton late Thursday into Friday, when they heard the police radio calls requesting that all available units come to Watertown.
“Officers who heard it on the radio came in from home,” he said. “So there was a good response to assist Watertown.”
Wells, Milton’s chief, found it hard to describe what he heard unfolding on police radios during the pursuit of Dzhokhar and his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who later died after engaging in a gunfight with police and then being run over by a car being driven by Dzhokhar as he sped from the scene.
“ ‘Surreal’ is not a good enough word,” said the 28-year veteran.
“You had Officer Collier killed, Officer Donohue wounded, one suspect killed. The suspect on the loose, he had detonated or threw something at [police] as he was leaving. From where we were in the [Boston] command center, we clearly realized the chances of someone else losing their lives was very high.”
By 6 p.m. Friday, Governor Deval Patrick suspended the “shelter-in-place” order for Watertown, Belmont, Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Newton, and Waltham after the manhunt came up empty. About an hour later Tsarnaev was found in a boat stored in a backyard in Watertown just outside the perimeter where the manhunt had been most intense.
Everett Police Chief Steven A. Mazzie, whose department provided two bomb-sniffing dogs throughout the investigation, said members of his and Revere’s SWAT teams were there when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured.
“It was a long day, [but] this is what these guys live for, to go out and do the job when the need arises,” Mazzie said. “Boston is the largest police department in the state, and they needed help, and we did that for them. Hopefully, we’ll never ever have to respond to anything like this again.”