Boston Bombing Report: Officers Lacked Weapon Discipline

Despite some shortcomings, the 130-page report praises the response as highly successful.

A report by the state's emergency management agency cites a "lack of weapons discipline" among some police officers during the chaotic events that unfolded when the Boston Marathon bombing suspects were tracked down in suburban Watertown several days after the April 2013 blasts.

The 130-page report, released Friday, says while the first officers who encountered suspects Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev acted correctly with their weapons during the ensuing firefight, officers who arrived later opened fire "without necessarily having identified and lined up their target."

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A transit police officer was seriously wounded during the gunfire. The report does not explicitly say if he was shot by another officer.The report says an officer later fired his weapon "without appropriate authority" after Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was discovered hiding in a boat later that day.
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Still, the report found that the overall response "must be considered a great success." It noted that all patients transported to area hospitals survived and that police agencies "worked together incredibly well," saying that "cooperation and coordination among local, state and federal law enforcement agencies" led the suspects to be apprehended within five days. Other applauded feats included the availability of mental health services and the reopening of Boylston Street after the bombing. 

"The community that makes up the Greater Boston area has re-defined the events of that difficult week," the report reads. "The acts of cowardice rendered by two individuals have been surpassed with acts of valor, highlighting the community’s tenacity and resilient spirit. The community’s response to these tragedies has been recognized worldwide as STRONG."

Three people were killed and more than 260 were injured when two pressure-cooker bombs exploded near the finish line April 15, 2013. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed after the bombings during a shootout with police after he received gunshot wounds and was run over by a vehicle driven by his brother. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is currently on trial for the bombings.

In a statement, Massachusetts State Police said the department responded positively to the report.

"We welcome the report's findings and, indeed, have already adopted many of the recommendations it makes, including greater multi-agency coordination in large-event security planning; enhanced, multi-layered security options using both uniformed and undercover law enforcement assets; and consistent and frequent public messaging through traditional and new media about such topics as prohibited items and awareness of suspicious activities," the statement read, in part.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh issued a statement praising the work of the group that worked on the report and the efforts of the first responders to the marathon bombings.

"I know that over the past two years City departments have worked together diligently to take the lessons learned from the bombings and drastically improve our emergency response protocols so we are even better prepared for the future, and we can set the example for other cities," he said. "The tragedy of April 15, 2013 will forever leave a mark on our City, and as we will always remember those who lost so much that day, we also reflect on how tragedy brought out the best of who we are as a community."

The executive summary includes the following best practices and lessons learned during the after action review process:

Key Best Practices:

  • Strong Relationships and Successful Unified Command. Strong relationships created and maintained by key leaders were paramount to ensuring commanders, agency heads, and political leaders came together quickly to form Unified Command and facilitate collaborative decision-making after the bombings in Boston and during the manhunt in Watertown. Key leaders had the necessary trust and rapport that allowed for Unified Command to make effective, collaborative decisions, execute mission-tasking, maintain situational awareness, and coordinate public messaging. These relationships also contributed to leadership knowing where to obtain resources, whom to task with missions, how to mobilize mutual aid, how to coordinate communications, and effectively make bold decisions such as suspending transit service and issuing a shelter-in-place request.
  • All-Hazards Medical System for Marathon Day. The all-hazards medical system in place on Marathon Day ensured that the capabilities and capacity to quickly triage and transport the injured from the scene of the incident were immediately available. Under the leadership of the BAA, an enhanced, all-hazards medical system was put in place for Marathon Day with the intent of taking pressure off the area hospital system by minimizing the number of patients who needed to be transported to hospitals. On the day of the bombings, medical personnel supporting Alpha Medical Tent near the Finish Line immediately transitioned to a mass casualty response. They established triage and treatment groups and designated the tent as a casualty collection point. All critically injured patients were transported to area hospitals within 50 minutes. Although many patients sustained grave injuries, every patient who was transported to area hospitals survived. This can be directly attributed to the rapid triage, transport and treatment these patients received on scene and at hospitals.
  • Well-Planned and Organized Re-Opening of Boylston Street. The City had to await the conclusion of the FBI’s evidence collection and crime scene processing before it could begin work to restore and reopen this vital economic and social area. The restoration of Boylston Street required extensive cleaning, debris removal and rebuilding. Because the City would have very short notice as to when the area would be accessible to them, a great degree of planning and preparation was required. The Mayor assigned the responsibility for planning the re-opening of Boylston Street to Boston OEM, and tasked all other City departments to support this critical mission. The restoration of Boylston Street was extremely organized; residents and proprietors were able to access their homes and businesses within 18 hours after the area was released to the City and the street was re-opened to the public in less than 36 hours. The ability to restore and reopen Boylston Street so quickly after the area was released back to the City by the FBI is a testament to the strong planning undertaken by the City.

Key Areas for Improvement

  • Lack of Coordination and Management of Mutual Aid within the Watertown Incident. Throughout the day on Friday, April 19, over 2,500 law enforcement officers converged onto the staging area at the Arsenal Mall and surrounding neighborhoods in Watertown. Officers that were requested as mutual aid assets were properly folded into the operation. However, a significant portion of the officers that arrived in Watertown had self-deployed. There was no command or management structure formally assigned to manage incoming mutual aid personnel. Officers were not assigned roles within the operation or provided briefings on the situation or command structure. This caused logistical issues, command and control issues, and officer safety issues.
  • Lack of Weapons Discipline. Weapons discipline was lacking by the multitude of law enforcement officers in the field during both the firefight with the two suspects near Dexter and Laurel Streets, and the standoff with the second suspect who was hiding in a winterized boat in a residential back yard. Although initial responding officers practiced appropriate weapons discipline while they were engaged in the firefight with the suspects, additional officers arriving on scene near the conclusion of the firefight fired weapons toward the vicinity of the suspects, without necessarily having identified and lined up their target or appropriately aimed their weapons. Officers lining both sides of the street also fired upon the second suspect as he fled the scene in a vehicle. Shortly after the firefight, an unmarked MSP black pickup truck was erroneously reported as stolen. This vehicle, with two occupants in it, was then spotted driving on Adams Street, near the scene of the shootout, and fired upon by an officer. Upon further inspection, it was determined that the occupants of the vehicle were a BPD officer and MSP trooper in plain clothes, both of whom were unhurt. Weapons discipline was again an issue during the operation to capture the second suspect who was hiding in a boat parked in a residential backyard. An officer fired his weapon without appropriate authority in response to perceived movement in the boat, in turn causing many officers to fire at the boat in the belief that they were being shot at by the suspect. Each of these incidents created dangerous crossfire situations.
  • Lack of a Joint Information Center. The need to utilize a Joint Information Center (JIC) was evident during all phases of the week. While the UCC worked together to coordinate messages and host press conferences on the day of the bombings and the day the suspects were apprehended, a JIC would have better supported the management of the media requests necessitated by a 24/7 news cycle throughout the course of the week. After the UCC stood down on Tuesday morning, public messaging became less coordinated. Agencies and organizations, which still had a need to provide public information, pushed out information over the remaining course of the week without having fully vetted and/or coordinated the messaging with one another. At times, this led to conflicting information in the domain of the media. On the day of the search for the at large Boston Marathon bombing suspect, information was well coordinated when provided through press conferences, but various agencies utilized social media to provide information. In contrast to the press conferences, there was no coordination or validation of messages delivered by numerous agencies and organizations through social media. This led to some misleading or incorrect information being widely distributed through social media outlets.

The report was produced by officials from the cities of Boston and Cambridge, the town of Watertown, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Transit Police Department, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, the Massachusetts National Guard and Massachusetts State Police.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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