Report: Law Enforcement Lacked Weapons Discipline During Boston Bombing Manhunt

The report on the law enforcement response to the April 2013 attacks in Boston was published Friday. Check back here for developments.

A long-awaited report on law enforcement’s response to the Boston Marathon bombing has been released Friday. You can download it here.

Brian Snyder / Reuters

Police officers search for suspects in Watertown, Massachusetts in 2013.

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency found "weapons discipline" was lacking by law enforcement officers during the Watertown shootout on April 18 with the Tsarnaev brothers and the operation the next day to capture Dzhokhar.

According to the report, "additional officers arriving on scene near the conclusion of the [Watertown] firefight fired weapons towards the vicinity of the suspects, without necessarily having identified and lined up their target or appropriately aimed their weapons."

The report also found weapons discipline to be a problem during the operation to capture Dzhokhar.

"An officer fired his weapon without appropriate authority in response to the 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," the report said, describing the shots as "contagious."

Authorities determined that more than 100 shots were fired into the Watertown boat during the operation.

As he fled the scene, officers lining both sides of the street fired at Tsarnaev creating a "dangerous crossfire situation."

The report found that after the Watertown shootout a Mass. State Police pickup truck was erroneously reported stolen. The truck was later spotted a few blocks from the firefight with two occupants. An officer who saw the truck fired his gun at the vehicle. It was later determined that the occupants of the truck were two plainclothes police officers. Both were unhurt.

The report found that many officers abandoned their cars with the doors open and the emergency lights still on near the scene of the firefight creating a bottleneck of police vehicles on the streets.

According to the report, this hindered the ability of officers to pursue the fleeing Tsarnaev brother and made it difficult for an ambulance transporting critically wounded MBTA police officer Dic Donohue to leave the scene.

After the shootout, confusion occurred as thousands of police arrived in the area to find it was unclear who was in charge of the manhunt for the Tsarnaev brother on the lam.

According to the report, within 12 hours of the shootout, "2,500 federal, state, and local officers converged on Watertown."

The incoming police were successfully staged at the Arsenal Mall, but because a staging area manager was not designated it was unclear to the arriving police who was in charge.

The report found that the lack of authority led police to "self-deploy into the field."


A residence photo captures the Tsarnaev brothers engaged in a firefight with police in Watertown, Mass. after the Boston bombings.


The aftermath of the Watertown shootout shows blood on the ground where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev fatally struck his brother Tamerlan with a car.

The absence of organized, universal public safety procedures led to confusion among first responders in the wake of the bombings.

The After Action Report highlighted how a lack of a "single, integrated, comprehensive operational plan for all public safety organizations" resulted in unnecessary confusion after the bombings took place.

While individual plans were deemed complete and understandable, they collectively varied in format across different communities.

In addition, the report found that "although many plans identified potential locations that could serve as shelters for runners, none of the plans detailed how runners would be directed to shelters, or how they would be transported to a final destination."

The sheer volume of different operations centers also contributed to confusion among city officials about which centers were responsible for certain response efforts, the report concluded.

The premature dismissal of local police officers and emergency buses could have delayed rescue and treatment.

The report noted that typically, once the bulk of marathon runners have passed through a community, public safety officers are relieved of duty and the roads are re-opened. During these times, transit officers "relies on support from local police departments to maintain security at station locations," where many marathon-goers tend to gather throughout the race.

The day of the marathon, however, those local police officers were told to stand down while thousands of attendants were still occupying the area, waiting for the bus.

According to the report, "because the race was going so smoothly, the emergency buses that were staged in Hopkinton were dismissed around 2:00 p.m., and were therefore not immediately available to help transport runners still on the course after the bombs had detonated and the race was stopped."

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency issued a recommendation that both public safety officials and emergency buses should remain on the course until the race has officially ended.

Hospital staff felt intimidated by the presence of the police and lack of communication about questioning patients.

The report found that EMS personnel arrived on the scene without triage tags, which allow them to quickly and efficiently classify the level of severity of injuries victims sustain. Once they were transported to medical facilities, "several hospitals reported having difficulty sorting and tracking patients."

Hospital staff, from nurses and doctors to security officers, expressed feeling intimidated by the number of police questioning victims and extracting evidence like clothing, cell phones, and shrapnel from patients and family members to submit as evidence. They claimed it would add to the emotional trauma of the event everyone had just experienced.

Here's the state's description of the report:

With the exception of the post-bombings criminal investigation and intelligence sharing activities before and after the 2013 Boston Marathon, all aspects of the response to the bombings and the incidents that followed during the week were examined, including: public safety and medical support planning for the 2013 Boston Marathon; the immediate public safety, public health and medical response to the bombings and those injured; the search for, and apprehension of the bombing suspects in Watertown; and the recovery of the Back Bay and the community at large. The 130-page report provides an overview of the incidents that occurred during the week of April 15, 2013; discusses the response activities of public safety, public health, emergency medical and healthcare communities; and discusses best practices, lessons learned, and areas needing improvement.

Read the report here: