Friday, February 02, 2007

In Boston, Rendering the Safe Safe

When the big guys in uniforms come in with their axes -- and wide grins, beware!

A decade ago, Engine 53 and Ladder 16 could barely restrain themselves from busting our walls. They came for a chimney fire, but this looked like their favorite sport. They seemed so bitterly disappointed when the creosote that had ignited, bellowed and erupted a fist of flame above the roof extinguished itself.

Four almost rabid guys alternately caressed their ax handles and felt the interior walls. Just a few degrees hotter and they could have laid waste to two floors and the attic of chimney-touching walls. Damn, violentus interruptus. They hung their heads as they left.

I had no intention of commenting further on the Homeland Silliness of the past few days in Boston, but the apologists won't, can't stop. The background and detail, replete with video, are at Universal Hub and Ryan's Take.

I was all set to let 'nuff said suffice...until I ran across the Boston Police Department goof-by-goof justification. It runs at the bottom here in its entirety, just in case it gets hard to find on their site.

This seems to have been written just begging John Stewart to riff on it at the Daily Show. Those who recall the brilliant Rob Corddry take on VP Dick Cheney shooting "a 78-year-old man in what can only be described as his face" will relish Commissioner Edward F. Davis III's repeated abuse of ""

Despite numerous other cities' ability to take these toy-like devices in stride and just trash them, our sincere and emotional mayor can't see any problem with local and state cops shutting down huge swathes of the Hub. Unlike those other cities, our take was to follow the Homeland Security checklists line by line. This is the check-your-brains-at-the-door style bureaucracy that infuriates so many of us as we perform like circus dogs at the RMV and elsewhere. Don't think -- you have your procedures to follow.

Mayor Tom Menino even did the Daddy-patted-my-head routine. According to the Boston Globe, he apparently puffed up like a Cub Scout winning his heat at the Pack's Pinewood Derby:

Though some residents complained that law enforcement agencies overreacted, Menino said that Michael Chertoff, US secretary of homeland security, called him yesterday morning and congratulated the city for acting responsibly.

"I'm very proud of how the public safety officials worked," Menino said in an interview, calling the massive response "seamless."

Richard A. Clarke, a former head of counterterrorism at the National Security Council, agreed.

"It looks like an overreaction in retrospect, but having been in that kind of position before, it's usually better to react than not," Clarke said during a chat with readers on "If you don't react and you are wrong, the results are much worse than if you react and are wrong."

Davis was better in his message though. He seems to have a great record in his business. However, his message to officers was pure cop-speak. For example, describing his guys' blowing up and otherwise dealing with a series of Lite-Brite-style objects, he concluded each of these with a phrase like "Using approved procedures the item is photographed, X-rayed and eventually rendered safe."

He had to be using render in its fourth definition of To cause to be or become. One supposes that attaching explosives to or using a water cannon on a harmless device and destroying it is somehow rendering a safe object into what can only be described as safe.

After the first one, you might supposed they learned something. No, they spent many hours and about $1 million in diverted police time and equipment rendering safe objects what can only be described as safe.

Davis, Menino and local media even threw in mentions of two fake pipe bombs they found unrelated to these and some questionable package found in D.C. to justify all this. Better safe than sorry, they say.

Instead, how about considering?
  • These ad-toys were literally hanging around in plain view for up to three weeks. Neither citizens nor public servants noticed them or at least did not report them. How safe does that make you feel?
  • Cops in other cities were reasonable in their treatment of the discovered devices and did not panic. How much confidence does that give you in the training of our own security forces?
  • Publicly at least, our officials, including our otherwise level-headed governor, are not asking for a reevaluation of our procedures. Anyone, or even on oak tree, can "manage" entirely predictable situations. It takes bright and well trained folk to handle the unusual.
I'd certainly like to feel that if someone threatens Bostonians, our police and other security people are up to the task. Show me.

When something good, bad or otherwise remarkable happens, I often ask my sons, "What can we learn from this?"



A Message from Police Commissioner Ed Davis

I would like to commend everyone involved in the response to yesterday’s events. The Citizens of Boston had their lives disrupted by what turned out to be a misguided publicity stunt. The men and women of the Boston Police Department and our various law enforcement partners responded to the situations presented to them efficiently and effectively, the way they have been trained to respond. Officers raced across the city in response to calls reporting bombs and other suspicious devices. As trained, our officers placed themselves in harms way to protect the public. Tough decisions were made to ensure safe situations. I cannot say enough about the rapid, efficient and skillful response by everyone involved in the day’s events. This response resulted in officers being held over to address the threats, which were being reported throughout the Boston Area.

Some have criticized the response to these incidents without having all the facts and circumstances known to them.

As the day unfolded the law enforcement community was informed in the early morning hours of the arrest by British authorities of several terror suspects.

At 6:53 a.m. DHS reported that a Washington D.C. Metro station was closed down due to a suspicious package.

At 8:18 a.m. an MBTA worker reported a suspicious device attached to a stanchion supporting Interstate 93 and near the train line. Appropriate units responded and determined that this device was suspicious and had components consistent with improvised explosive devices.

At 8:52 a.m. DHS notified Law Enforcement officials that at least 4 people were being treated at a post office after being overcome by fumes emanating from a package at a post office in New York City.

At 9:00 a.m. The Boston Police Bomb squad is requested by the MBTA to Sullivan Square and examines the item. As a precaution I-93 is closed and the device is rendered safe and determined to be some sort of hoax device at 10:21 AM.

At 12:54 p.m. the Boston Police Bomb squad receives a call for a suspicious device at the intersection of Stuart and Charles Street. That device appears similar to the first device containing batteries, wires, magnets and other components similar to the device in Sullivan Square. Using approved procedures the item is photographed, X-rayed and eventually rendered safe.

Six minutes later at 1:02 p.m. Boston Police received a call from New England Medical Center Security that they had uncovered a pipe bomb in their building in a desk drawer. Shortly thereafter Hospital Security reported that a suspect had been seen leaving the area of the pipe bomb in an agitated state stating “God is warning you that today is going to be a sad Day”. The suspect was reported to have fled the hospital. Boston Police continue to investigate this incident. No further details at this time.

At 1:08 p.m. the Boston Police Bomb Squad arrived and confirmed the existence of an item which appeared to be a pipe bomb inside the hospital.

At 1:11 p.m. information was received and a request was made by the Massachusetts State Police to have the bomb squad assist with locating devices under the Longfellow and BU bridges.

At this point we had multiple reports of possible improvised explosive devices of various types. As those devices were being investigated and rendered safe, detectives from the Boston Police Department and Massachusetts State Police were running down information on a cartoon character possibly associated with these devices, that later led to websites associated with that character and individuals placing these devices around the area.

Boston Police begin to receive numerous calls for similar devices throughout Boston and surrounding areas.

At approximately 4:30 p.m. detectives from the Boston Police Department were contacted and were verifying information from representatives from the corporation responsible for this advertising campaign.

At 4:51 p.m. Turner Broadcasting representatives were verified as taking responsibility for placing devices with the cartoon character. This was at the same time a press conference was underway at Boston Police Headquarters.

Officers identified a device (possible pipe bomb) at the New England Medical Center which turned out to be unrelated. Another type of device was located under the Longfellow Bridge, which is being investigated by the Massachusetts State Police.

During this time, ATF, FBI, Federal Protective Services, United States Secret Service, Massachusetts State Police, Federal Park Police, Transit Police, and our UASI Partners pulled together and redeployed resources in the event a larger response was needed.

Later in the evening the emergency event was declared resolved.

I recognize that this event caused you to work extra hours, to inconvenience your families and cause them concern. I want to convey my deep appreciation of your dedicated service and my pride in the manner in which the members of this Department responded to this incident.

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Uncle said...

OK, this is a gimme I was going to use in my place. How come these things are "suspicious" whilst an endless stream of political blather from unions with good political connections stay up on bridge pillars until they rot? If you can make a bomb out of a lite-brite, you can also make one out of a sheet of paper: check it out. Looks more generational every day: I suspect you and I are traitors to our generation due to the crime of critical thinking.

Mass Marrier said...

I'm going to scream if I hear "world-class city" for Boston one more time when the natives act like barefooted hillbillies in for a Saturday look see.

Uncle said...

Damn, I forgot! Years ago, when I was in charge of one of the city's (really) sacred treasures, I spent a hellish summer racing in from the burbs for a succession of false fire alarms, hoping to reach the scene before the BFD ax fetishists got to work. One night I did not: $600 worth of damage with a single blow. I haven't thought kindly of Boston's official protectors ever since.