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Boston Marathon bomb response exposed 'fault lines' in policing, study finds



By Scott Malone

(Reuters) - The massive manhunt for the perpetrators of last year's Boston Marathon bomb attack exposed some "fault lines" in coordinating law enforcement at the federal, state and local levels, according to a study released on Thursday.

Emergency responders racing to a crime scene without waiting for orders might save lives by tending to the wounded, but during the chaotic chase to catch the suspects a few days later, they also risked being shot by police, the Harvard University report found.

The hairiest events after the bombing, which killed three people and injured 264, began three days later when the two ethnic Chechen brothers accused of planting the pressure-cooker bombs at the finish line, shot and killed a university police officer in a failed attempt to steal his gun and flee the city.

The shooting prompted hundreds of local police, as well as law enforcement officials who had traveled from other towns to help with the investigation, to race to Watertown, Massachusetts, where the suspects traded shots with police.

Officers surrounded the suspects, placing police at a high risk of shooting one another, the report found.

"They were incredibly lucky that there weren't a lot of friendly fire casualties," said lead author Herman "Dutch" Leonard, a professor of public management at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

The study was based on interviews with some 100 law enforcement and other public officials who took part in the response.

One officer, Richard Donohue of the transit police, was badly wounded in that gun battle and witnesses told local media that he may have been accidentally shot by a fellow officer. No official report on the shooting has been released.

That incident was not the only case in which possibly overtired officers ran the risk of shooting one another, the report said. The gunbattle ended in the death of one suspect, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev, while his younger brother Dzhokhar, now 20, managed to elude police.

When the younger brother was found hiding in a drydocked boat the next evening, dozens of police raced to the scene.

One officer on a rooftop fired at Tsarnaev, prompting "a substantial volume of contagious fire" by other police at the scene, the report found.

It noted that contagious gunfire, in which the sound of shots prompts others to fire their weapons, poses a high risk in densely populated areas such as the Watertown suburb of Boston where the younger Tsarnaev was apprehended.

The suspect is now awaiting trial on charges that carry the threat of execution if he is convicted.

Despite problems during the manhunt, the report found that law enforcement officials worked together smoothly on the day of the bomb blasts, evidenced by the fact that most of the casualties, many of whom lost legs, survived despite substantial loss of blood.

That coordinated effort was a result of years of planning and coordination around the marathon, Boston's best-attended sporting event.

The Harvard report suggests that law enforcement officials responding to major security threats take more aggressive steps to establish tactical command, including planning rest shifts so that they are not relying on overtired officers.

The lessons of the response to the Boston bombing could easily apply to future security scares, Leonard said.

"Any significant terrorist activity on the homeland is going to generate a similar ramping up and presence of many different law enforcement agencies," Leonard said.

"This event illustrates how much progress we've made since 9/11 and Katrina in being able to form rapid command structures that are effective," he said. "But we have a lot of work to do in projecting the same philosophy down to operating on the street." (Reporting by Scott Malone; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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newpaint01 April 16 2014 at 5:59 AM

thousands of shots fired and no one has ever said where they went, while i commend the fact they were caught and on killed, 2 shootouts and not many bullets hit the targets, the brother who was killed was run over by his own brother , wonder why no one brings this up

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JTalltrees1 April 15 2014 at 7:44 PM

Barney's at it again!

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1 reply
mproviderone JTalltrees1 April 15 2014 at 8:50 PM

good only one BULLET.

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MARTHA & PERRY April 16 2014 at 12:31 AM

it's frightening that they declared martial law looking for one guy. and everybody complied like good little robots.

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2 replies
proteus12544 MARTHA & PERRY April 16 2014 at 1:41 AM

I guess seeing people blow up does that too you. SMH Would you have prefered they just let everyone run around while trying to find this guy? Maybe get more civilians hurt. Oh wait that would be something else you could complain about.

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1 reply
bobcuz1959 proteus12544 April 16 2014 at 4:57 AM

Martha and Perry would never have been locked and loaded to put their lives on the line for anyone. Promise.

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henry_bevis MARTHA & PERRY April 16 2014 at 2:44 AM

You make a good point but what if the boy had been armed with some kind of firearm? Someone could have been taken hostage and maybe killed. The best I can remember is that they just wanted everyone to stay inside their homes while they hunted the boy down......they should have finished him off then and there.

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1 reply
auntturtle henry_bevis April 16 2014 at 8:20 AM

"...the boy"? Enough of this! Next, we'll see some bleeding heart refer to this old-enough-to-make a bomber as a scared youngster? a confused child?

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SABRINA April 15 2014 at 1:30 PM

Nind sight is always 20/20. Only look back to learn how to move forward.

PS: Sometimes it's just " Lady Luck " looking over us.

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spazthecat22 April 15 2014 at 7:38 PM

"The gunbattle ended in the death of one suspect, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev, while his younger brother Dzhokhar, now 20, managed to elude police."

Not exactly! Tamerlan died after his brother ran him down, and tried to take out 3 officers in an SUV while trying to flee police.

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3 replies
Tommy April 15 2014 at 7:21 PM

Amazing how everyone has such brilliant analysis and criticism after the fact, yet probably wouldn't know where to begin to solve anything. Nice to watch TV and get at best, 5th hand reporting from someone sitting in a nice studio, sometime hundreds if not thousands of miles away. It amazes me how quickly the two killers were identified as "the bombers" and subsequently apprehended. Many times, if not most times, it is people, citizens, that see something and relay to the police that lead to arrests of whatever. You know-it-alls who want to berate the police are probably the first ones call for police help when someone steps on your toes. Police are not magicians to pull the rabbit out every time, but they do work hard to try to. Let's not forget, if you want to talk "unarmed" , the people who died, lost limbs, or injured in other ways, were "UNARMED" themselves; just watching a race!

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1 reply
Tom Tommy April 15 2014 at 9:39 PM

I agree with what you say Tommy and if it wasn't for the media hanging around across the street the second jerk wouldn't be sitting in a warm and cozy cell somewhere right now.

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Diane April 15 2014 at 6:57 PM

If the guy that owned the boat hadn't looked out & seen the cover amiss, either the bomber would have died in the back of his boat & he would have been found in the spring, or he would have gotten away. The "authorities" had very little to do with finding him. In fact, they were all getting ready to leave when the boat owner made the phone call. Let's not give credit where credit is not due.

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1 reply
petpetdon Diane April 15 2014 at 10:37 PM

Both of them should be dead. No trial, no additional money spent by the tax payers.

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David Finn April 15 2014 at 3:12 PM

I know that these investigations are required, but some of the analytical work seems like it is from persons who have never worked in the field in real life.

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kimcrdr April 15 2014 at 3:42 PM

I think they all acted and came together wonderfully, the only thing I see they did wrong was left the younger terrorist alive!

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1 reply
dccb3 kimcrdr April 15 2014 at 6:43 PM

why do we kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong?

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2 replies
stephen284 dccb3 April 15 2014 at 6:58 PM

Why do we have to listen to Liberals, who have nothing to say other than that which another already has said a gazillion times?

Every Liberal suddenly becomes a revenge nut when someone they know is a victim!

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joannecdsnj dccb3 April 15 2014 at 7:01 PM

It's cheaper than taking them to court and putting them in jail.

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booneelise April 16 2014 at 3:00 AM

black people have hook boobies

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