Police Response to the Boston Marathon Bombing

Written by Professor Glenn Skeens

The 2013 Boston Marathon will be forever etched into our memories. Two Improvised Explosive Devices were detonated at the finish line causing three deaths and over 180 injuries. The explosion is a reminder to all of how vulnerable we are to cowardly acts of violence. From the initial response by first responders to the crisis site and four days of intense investigations that led to the death of suspect 2 and the apprehension of suspect 1. The world witnessed through media outlets the resolve of the victims, families, citizens and first responders in Boston and the surrounding communities.

The Boston Police Department is a full service police agency with enhanced response capabilities to both manmade and natural disasters. Administrative and Operational planning is critical in preparing for large scale special events. Pre-planning for a special event such as the Boston Marathon would typically cover multiple scenarios to assist in contingency planning for the final operations plan. Those injured by the blast received time critical first aid for their life threatening injuries by first responders assigned to the event. Police officers, fire and EMS on site applied tourniquets and comforted the wounded. Boston hospital’s trauma units worked tirelessly around the clock to aid victims with wounds typically seen only on battlefields.

After the injured were transported from the crisis location, the first and most important function is to protect the crime scene and evidence. An enormous task when we consider the size of the crime scene in this incident. The crime scene encompassed over twenty city blocks. The essential requirements to secure the scene is taping, roping, barricading and guarding. Assigning the appropriate number of personnel is vital in order to protect the integrity of the crime scene. Resources can be depleted very quickly requiring assistance from multiple jurisdictions and agencies. As the crime scene is secured and the investigation evolves the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) is notified and assists BPD during the course of the investigation. The JTTF is a partnership between regional law enforcement agencies, FBI and other federal agencies most notably the Department of Homeland Security. The JTTF operates under the Operational Support Branch of the FBI Counterterrorism Unit and is responsible for the prevention and investigation of terrorism.

The preliminary investigation is conducted once the scene is secured:

  • Questioning victims, witnesses and suspects;
  • Conducting a canvass of the area;
  • Measuring, photographing, videotaping and sketching the scene;
  • Searching for evidence;
  • Identifying, collecting, examining and processing physical evidence; and, recording all statements and observation in field notes.

Regardless of the size, location or complexity of a crime scene, the goals of a police investigation aim to determine whether a crime has been committed, legally obtain sufficient information and evidence to identify the person(s) responsible; arrest the suspect and present the best case possible to the prosecutor.

The utilization of technology, continuous communication between law enforcement and the media; and, the assistance from the citizens of Boston throughout the investigation provide an example of administrative and operational excellence for all communities to follow in solving crimes.

The Boston Police Department along with state and Federal law enforcement clearly demonstrated the need for a cooperative and well-coordinated effort among law enforcement and outside entities in their response and successful apprehension of suspects to a devastating crime. We should never forget that a criminal investigation is, certainly, a mutual effort.

Published on April 23, 2013