Police Commissioner Gives Earful to Panel on Marathon Response

In Washington, Ed Davis said the lack of communication stymied the efforts of first responders.

Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis wasn’t on hand at Moakley Courthouse today to see two of the city’s most notorious (alleged) criminals have their day in court. Instead, Davis was in Washington, where he gave an earful to the Senate Homeland Security & Government Affairs Committee, who convened a panel to discuss the response to the Marathon bombings. The commissioner commended the work of first responders and law enforcement officials who immediately converged on Boylston Street, noting that the scene was cleared of all spectators and nearly 300 injured within 22 minutes and that the 19 critically injured victims admitted to hospitals all survived. For the next 102 hours, he said he worked closely with more than one dozen law enforcement partners to identify and capture the bombers, and commended their quick responses and open lines of communication in making the eventual capture and apprehension of the Tsarnaevs.

But it wasn’t all backslapping on Davis’s part. While he offered praise for these partners, Davis also said that the communication broke down when it came to the local Joint Terrorism Task Force, which he said stymied the overall efforts of the response. (Recall that the JTTF had received information about Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s visit to Russia, but did not pass that information on to local authorities.) “There is a gap with information sharing at a higher level while there are still opportunities to intervene in the planning of these terrorist events,” he said. “The current [memorandum of understanding] for JTTFs around the country needs to be amended to mandate immediate sharing of terror information that poses a threat to our cities.”

Davis also noted that cellphone communication was “rendered completely useless” at the scene in the immediate wake of the bombings, leaving first responders unable to contact each other except over radio signal. The satellite phones they had didn’t work indoors, leaving first responders frustrated and unable to communicate effectively. “I want to reiterate that law enforcement needs secure radio bandwidth in a public safety spectrum dedicated exclusively to public safety use now, as it is the only way to communicate during an event of this magnitude,” he said.

Whereas Davis was commended by the other speakers at the hearing, Rep. Michael McCaul, chairmain of the House Committee on Homeland Security, took issue with the FBI’s decision to skip the hearing, noting that a lot is still unknown about exactly how much the FBI knew before the bombings.

“It is this committee’s responsibility find out how we did not see it coming,” he said. “We are going to find out what happened, what went wrong, and how to fix it.”