Former Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis and Watertown Police Chief Edward Deveau testified before the House Committee on Homeland Security Wednesday morning, offering testimony about the local response to the Boston Marathon bombing. Watertown Police Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese and Harvard Professor Herman Leonard, who wrote a report examining law enforcement response to the bombing, also spoke during the session.
Committee Chairman and US Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, opened the hearing lauding Boston’s response to the bombing. He also said federal agencies should have done a better job sharing intelligence with local law enforcement.
“Boston Police should have been given more information through the process,” said McCaul.
Representative Loretta Sanchez, D-California, addressed the response of federal agencies in the wake of the bombings, including Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to seek the dealth penalty for suspected bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Holder’s “decision to seek the death penalty is a game changer,” she said.
Representative Bill Keating, D-Massachusetts, praised Boston’s response to the bombing.
“There’s no doubt that boston’s handling of the marathon will serve as a model for other cities,” said Keating.
Davis told the committee the level of sharing between federal and local law enforcement has been “critical” to the department’s success in combating terrorism.
“Make no mistake about this, Boston Police, Watertown Police, none of us could have had the success we had without the larger community,” he said.
Deveau then spoke before the committee. Read his full statement here.
“Those two brothers were trying to kill my police officers and had plans to kill and injure more innocent people,” said Deveau.
Pugliese expressed his gratitude for the officers who responded the night Tsarnaev was captured.
“They were ordinary guys put into an extraordinary situation, and responded extraordinarily well,” said Pugliese.
While introducing Leonard, McCaul called the Dzhokhar and older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev “the biggest terrorists since 9/11.”
Leonard outlined the findings from his report.
“NIMS is now starting to work. The response in Boston was as good as one could reasonably hope,” said Leonard. The National Incident Management System was implemented by the federal government after the 9/11 attacks.
Leonard praised the efforts of law enforcement. He said one thing that could be improved was “micro-command,” which he described as “the ability of people to quickly come together in an organized way.”
“Boston Strong says we will defend the American way of life by continuing to participate in it,” he said.
“We were all citizens of Boston that day,” said McCaul after Leonard finished his testimony.
McCaul praised the leadership of Davis, saying his character “shined” in the events.
McCaul asked Deveau whether it would make sense to include local police departments in crisis response during a terrorist attack. Deveau said it would.
“The Watertown Police Department has limited resources,” he said.
Sanchez asked how the departments communicated with the public.
“What did you learn from that experience and have you set up different protocols on how you share information,” asked Sanchez.
Davis said social media has become a primary source for Boston Police reaching the media and the public.
““We don’t even do press releases anymore, we just post it on social media,” said Davis. “It’s a very, very effective means of getting information out to people quickly.”
Representative Peter King, R-New York, asked Davis about training for addressing situations like the bombing.
“It’s almost like a sports team. A sports team has to practice, practice, practice to get it right on game day. And that’s what we need to do,” said Deveau.
Davis said his department had trained for a Mumbai-style attack and developed Operation Urban Shield as a response to a similar attack in Boston.
Keating focused on information sharing between federal agencies and with local departments.
“Like so many other people, I wondered what the motivations behind the attack were,” said Keating. “Because of that, it took my to Russia two times.”
Keating said federal agencies were given information about the Tsarnaevs by Russian agencies.
“There’s an obvious multiplier effect to sharing information,” he said.
Davis said police chiefs have secret and top secret clearance so they can receive information from federal authorities.
“I think the intent is really good and people have recognized that’s how it should work. But when you’re dealing with such large agencies over time, change is difficult,” he said.
Keating said he learned from 60 Minutes that the images of the suspects were available the Wednesday after the bombings. A planned press conference by law enforcement was cancelled that day.
“At that point in time, the FBI had taken jurisdiction in the case and were making decisions on when there were press conferences or not,” said Davis. “Somewhere the decision was made above me that there would not be a press conference.”
Representative Patrick Meehan, R-Pennsylvania, asked about the micro response and incident command during a crisis.
“This particular crime scene was complex because there was a distinct possibility there was a third device there,” said Davis.
Davis said it took 18 minutes to clear the scene. After that, officers started collecting evidence and communicating with political leaders.
“Our role was to advise. We told our elected officials exactly what we had,” said Davis.
Leonard said command and coordination is the most important lesson from the bombing.
“Don’t take indicent management for granted,” said Leonard. “It’s not self-executing and it’s not a natural act for these agencies. It has to be practiced.”
Representative Donald Payne, D-New Jersey asked the witnesses about the proposed consolidation of federal grants used to support local law enforcement in terrorism prevention.
“I think the current system is working and I think Boston is an example of it working very well,” said Deveau.
Representative Eric Swalwell, D-California, noted that an al Qaeda publication that pictured a young man in a tram similar to one used in San Francisco. He asked Davis whether such publications concerned him at the local level.
“You just need to be vigilant,” said Davis.
Representative Yvette Clarke, D-New York, asked how well law enforcement has institutionalized NIMS and how departments can control self-deployment in favor of a coordinated response.
“Self-deployment in some of these circumstances is inevitable and it’s not necessarily a bad thing,” said Leonard. “It’s at the tactical level that we don’t have a doctrine.”
“The unified command we had in Watertown worked very well,” said Deveau. “I think there is a little bit of a disconnect when you get to the lower level, when people from other departments come into town.”
“We needed those officers, but we needed them to work quicker together and better together,” said Deveau.
“We changed our doctrine after Columbine,” said Davis. Before the Colorado school shooting, police would secure the scene and wait for a SWAT team. Now police take a more active role from the start of the incident.
Representative Jeff Duncan, R-South Carolina, criticized the lack of implementation from federal agecnies after major incidents.
“Doggone it, I’m tired of just learning the lessons, I want to apply them,” he said.
Davis said he felt “we’ve come a long way” when it comes to sharing information, but codifying that relationship in law would help.
“Police agencies at every level follow the law, and if that’s that law, that’s what they’ll use,” he said.
Davis was complimentary about the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, which was designed to foster information sharing between agencies.
“I think the FBI came 90 yards down the field by creating the JTTF, but that was some bureaucracy that kept us from getting into the end zone,” said Davis.
McCaul asid the task force has worked well but was not perfect.
“In this particular case, some things fell through the cracks,” said McCaul.
Joseph Dussault contributed to this report.