It's appropriate to remember the heroism of police as we honor the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings—but it's also important to acknowledge, and learn from, the mistakes officers made as they searched for the Tsarnaev brothers in Watertown a year ago, writes Thomas Gagen in the Boston Globe. A new report out of Harvard University analyzes the police response, and finds a number of police errors. Perhaps the largest: As officers fired on the SUV in which Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was trying to flee, an MBTA officer was hit and almost killed—likely by a police bullet. Why? The local officers had things figured out, but when out-of-town backup arrived, "chaos ensued."
Two other officers were nearly hit, and a transit police officer was grazed by a bullet. Officers surrounded an innocent bystander, guns drawn; other officers circled a vehicle of another passerby, creating "a potential crossfire hazard." Lastly, too many officers "flocked to the scene" when Tsarnaev was spotted, which put the suspect's "life in peril." That may not seem like a problem to many, but Gagen asserts that Tsarnaev "needs to go on trial so that the world can witness the quality of American justice." Law enforcement agencies need to respond to these problems by figuring out how to best utilize the chain of command when unacquainted officers have to work together in an emergency situation. They also must acknowledge that by rushing to Tsarnaev, perhaps out of a desire to be part of a big moment, officers put the public at risk. "Bravery is not the only component of effective police work," Gagen says, seeing in this a "teachable moment." Click for his full column.