I did a rant about the perceptions of police actions in Massachusetts recently. You can find it if you scroll down just a bit. I encourage you to read that post and especially the comments. One of those commenters, Jacksonian Grouch, has taken me to task, challenged me and invited me to hold a conversation.
"When you're ready to have an adult conversation about this, send up a post that has a bit more depth."
I'm not sure what he means by a bit more depth but Ok, I'll bite. Here's your chance to weigh in on this topic on the site of a retired police officer.
Please read my post and all the comments and then, if you would be so kind, comment here. I promise not to delete comments and will respond to everyone who leaves me one. It may take me a day but I will respond. Commenters are free to engage with each other. Civility is temporarily set aside for this thread so have at it and give me your best shot. Tell your friends, all are welcome. Be aware, I also have friends and some of them both agree with me and are frighteningly smart so you critics have been warned. Links are also welcome but no video or pictures in comments. I can't spare the bandwidth. You might also peruse my tags list, especially the one labeled police to get some background on both my experience and views on modern policing. You might be surprised.
This is a very big event in modern American history and it deserves to be bandied about, studied and understood. I'll make my own position clear. The Mass cops did a magnificent job in their handling of the bombing, the aftermath and the pursuit of and capture of both suspects. I include the FBI in that though it pains me to make that admission. As a police veteran I understand their actions, mindset and what they wanted to accomplish. More importantly I understand why they reacted the way they did and took the actions they did.
A cop's first priority is public safety. Period. Yes, we have made mistakes in the past and continue to do so on an anecdotal basis. Guilty as charged and I have addressed this very issue when I talked about Hysterical Incompetence among my brethren. But none of that changes the fact that preservation of life is number one among our lists of things to do. When an officer is in active pursuit of a felon (note that word please, felon) he has an awful wide lawful latitude on things he can do to apprehend that felon. That includes pursuing him into a private home absent either a search or arrest warrant. An officer may also enter a home in Exigent Circumstances absent a search warrant if conditions on the ground warrant it, mostly in the pursuit of that public safety I talked about earlier. We can also (I say we because it's easier for me to write that way though I am at present retired) give lawful orders at crime and catastrophe scenes that may result in arrest if they are disobeyed. Yes, I understand that those of a more libertarian bent both hate and dispute that idea but it's true nevertheless. We can bar entry to an area and likewise evacuate the same if conditions meet the criteria. What is that criteria? It depends. Natural disasters, fires (Google Oakland Hills fire), petroleum refinery explosions, crime scenes, etc. The list is long and really depends on the situation, the conditions, the resources available and the agency(s) responsible. Let's examine Watertown/Boston for a moment.
We have two bombs that go off at the Boston Marathon, killing three and wounding more than 150, many critically. Law enforcement commences a massive investigation and suspects are identified by face. Pictures are released hoping for a break. See, we understand that the general population is our best resource. Someone will almost certainly know or see our suspects and let us know where they are. In the meantime we gather evidence, begin to make our case and make plans in the event we get a break.
The suspects did what many felons do, they went to ground in the hopes that the pursuit would pass them by so they could either escape or strike again. Given what we now know about our felons, making plans for a continuation of the violence seems like it was probably a pretty good idea since that's what happened. Fast forward a few days. Now we have our felons shooting an officer and carjacking an innocent's car. That's as much as shouting to the police "Hey, here we are! Come and get us!" The police accept the challenge and the active pursuit of violent felonious criminals in the act begins anew. Shots are fired from the fleeing vehicle and bombs are tossed willy nilly across the landscape. And a large landscape it is. Miles of streets. The felons are finally cornered and a gunfight breaks out. Another officer is critically wounded. That makes two gunned down in a very short period of time in an active and ongoing crime. One felon is killed after officers exchange fire with the two brothers and still try to take him alive. The second felon flees.
Have I mentioned that these two brothers are bombers armed with both IEDs and firearms? We an dispense with the definition of terrorist of you like but that doesn't change what they were. Armed enemy combatants committing a continuing act of War against the United States of America and her citizens. But I digress.
The active crime scene is now huge. It runs from Cambridge to Watertown and all the surrounding environs , including the city of Boston. The cops don't know if the fleeing felon is wounded or not but they can't make that assumption. He could be anywhere his feet or a convenient vehicle can take him and the longer he's loose the further away he could be. They also know he's been armed so they can safely assume he's both still armed and ready to kill. Again. He has already done so 4 times and tried many, many more. This isn't a pursuit of Billy Bob who just hit his ex and ran off into the neighborhood. It's not sumdood who stuck up the corner Stop&Rob when it all went to hell and he had to flee. This is an active (there's that word again) combatant who has killed and shows every sign that he's eager for a confrontation so he can kill again. He's killed both police and civilians (Yes, I know we're also civilians. Work with me here) and shows no compunction about killing even children.
What do our police do in such a chaotic and dangerous environment? What would you do? Remember, this is an active crime scene with a mad bomber running loose who has already killed 4 and wounded scores. There are explosions and shots being fired. It's an ongoing massive and violent clusterfuck and it's now your job to unfuck it. Lives are at stake here. Many lives. You must act immediately and forcefully to bring this to a successful and hopefully casualty free conclusion but act you must. Right now not hours later or tomorrow or the day after. Right. Fucking. Now. That's your job and what your community both hired you for and expects of you. Don't be wishy washy here. Don't fidget and stall for time. It's here now, it's huge, people are fucking dying right fucking now for for God's sake do something and do it quick!!!! But Lord help you if you're wrong because then We Will Crucify You!!!!! Yep, that's what a scene like that looks like for those men and women on the sharp end. Something to bear in mind kids.
So act they did. They exercised their lawful authority to control an active crime/disaster scene. They temporarily locked down the scene, put on their big boy pants and went in after this psychopathic terrorist knowing that the next bomb might be going off in their faces. They threw up a cordon and stopped all forms of public transportation. Except for the taxis. Did you know that? Some taxis ran for those trapped in places other than their homes. Then they went door to door (but didn't do mass entries in spite of what some might say), house to house, street by street searching for our remaining murderous, violent, psychopathic felon. It took time but such a search usually does. They were pugnacious, courageous, swift and daring. They were also compassionate. They did all in their power to bring that scene to a quick and safe conclusion. Yes, in the end it took a citizen investigating a suspicious circumstance about his boat to capture the felon alive but that's not the cop's fault. I've seen escapees watch the cordon for holes and weaknesses to allow them to move from hiding spot to hiding spot. In the end it avails them nothing as was the case here. The casualties were limited to two cops and both of our felons. No innocents were injured in the course of these events (that I am aware of).
If you want to understand how the police actions were viewed then just watch the interviews with those affected and the videos of them community lining the streets to thank those brave officers for the job they did. Now contrast and compare the actions of those American police officers with the Indian cops response to Mumbai. Here's the money quote:
The two gunmen fled the scene and fired at pedestrians and police officers in the streets, killing eight police officers. The attackers passed a police station. Many of the outgunned police officers were afraid to confront the attackers, and instead switched off the lights and secured the gates.
Compare that to this:
After more than 200 rounds were traded over several minutes, some officers were out of ammunition and charged the brothers’ position with their police car. The vehicle was disabled by gunfire from the Mercedes. Kitzenberg said he saw one of the shooters toss a metallic object — possibly a pressure-cooker bomb similar to the ones used in the marathon attack — in the direction of the police line. It rolled a few yards before detonating harmlessly.
And make no mistake here, these two murderous brothers were after a Mumbai like outcome. They didn't get it because our police officers stood up and in effect told them 'Over our dead bodies' and then backed that up with their blood.
The funniest thing about all of the criticism I've seen is that I get the clear indication that the cops could not have been right no matter what they did. If their response had been wishy washy and someone had been killed, say in a hostage situation, they'd have been as roundly criticized if not more so. The truth is that in some eyes the police cannot win. We understand that and the very best among us act in accordance with their education, training and moral/ethical compass and just do the right thing regardless of the naysayers. They're called Street Cops and I love them dearly for it.
And lest we forget, police administration, the courts and every personal injury and defense lawyer in the country. Admin will sell you out in a hot second for a general pass from the media for the organization, the courts will censure and even jail you depending on how big a hard on the local DA has for convicting a cop and defense attorneys will literally salivate themselves to death if you made an error. What all that means is that every decision you made and every action you took will be scrutinized in the light of safety by those who were not there and wouldn't understand even if they were. And it'll go on for weeks, years, decades after the fact. That means that if those folks who were subject to the lockdown or any other action of those Mass cops doesn't like it redress is only as far as the IA desk and the nearest attorney's office.
So there you have it. My reaction to the actions of those officers in Mass and my simple explanation for why they did what they did. I am hardly the first or last authority in these matters so if I have made errors please point them out and if correct I will amend them. The floor is now yours. You may agree. You may disagree. I hope you will respond carefully and thoughtfully. I really hope you will not only offer criticism but also explain, given what the officers at the scene either knew or suspected, what you would have done differently and why. Because criticism without alternates is really just kvetching because you hate cops and they're always wrong. I really hope that's not what's going on here.
The very idea that those cops acted unconstitutionally and as jackbooted thugs worthy of the SS and the Gestapo really burns my ass. These are brave and worthy officers acting within the strictures of the law and in the best traditions of their service.
(After some cross talk with TinCanAssasin I have come to the conclusion that those words are unnecessarily confrontational and may serve to turn off some that may otherwise wish to engage in this discussion. My purpose here is to both defend good police work as I see it and to address the gulf that currently exists between citizen and cop by talking about how such work is done, why and the thinking that goes into critical events like this one, not to be seen as simply a by rote apologist for my profession. A gulf that seems to be growing almost daily. If we can have a frank and open discussion here then perhaps others can and will as well. The first step to understanding is the ability to relate and see another point of view.)