Former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis Talks About Terrorism and 'Patriots Day'


On of the key threads in Boston Marathon movie Patriots Day (now playing in theaters everywhere) is how quickly and seamlessly local and Federal authorities pulled together and coordinated the difficult task of identifying, tracking down and neutralizing a major terror threat.

Former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis acted as a consultant for the producers and is portrayed in the film by John Goodman. We had a chance to talk with Davis  about the movie and the role of local law enforcement in the fight against terrorism in a post-9/11 world.


John Goodman and Ed Davis talk about the movie on CBS This Morning.

Did you work as a consultant on Patriots Day?

Not so much during the film, but before with the writers and the producers, talking about what happened. I helped them as they came into the city to meet with the mayor and the other people they had to meet. I helped them with relations, the governor's office and things like that.

There’s sort of a standard plot device in Hollywood TV shows and movies about police: the local force always flips out when the FBI shows up.


This is a much different portrayal of the relationship between local police forces and the Feds. Is it more accurate?

I think you're right. We could not have done what we did without the assistance of the Feds, both in the planning and in the execution of the pursuit. But there's stress there and it's not always between the police agencies. Sometimes it's between the bureaucracy of the Justice Department and the lawyers involved. There's a lot of push and pull in investigations and I think this movie portrays it pretty well.


How did the Boston Police change its preparation after 9/11 and how did those changes contribute to what you were able to do after the bombing?

What happened after 9/11 was vital to our preparation for this incident because we were brought into Washington and briefed on world events, unlike anything that I had seen before 9/11. After 9/11, there was a recognition of the threat that the country was facing and local police needed to be better equipped and understand the world situation.

We started to build very tight relationships with intelligence services through our Fusion Center, which was put in place to move information between the federal government and the local government and from the local government to the federal government. The people that staff those Fusion Centers usually have an intelligence background.

Our ongoing relationship with the military, especially in dealing with CBRN issues and the whole monitory process, they’ve become infused in our teams in dealing with any big event that occurs in the city.

This culmination of the understanding of the threat and what's behind it, along with real operational connections day in and day out, set the stage for us to be able to rely on the FBI, the National Guard, and other agencies that come into help us.

Boston, MA - Commissioner Edward Davis and Superintendent William Evans (L) on the scene where police were investigating the area where there was a police involved shooting of a man late Tuesday afternoon. Boston Herald staff photo by John Wilcox.

Boston, MA - Commissioner Edward Davis and Superintendent William Evans (L) on the scene where police were investigating the area where there was a police involved shooting of a man late Tuesday afternoon. Boston Herald staff photo by John Wilcox.

The framers of the Constitution saw a bright line between foreign and domestic threats. The world has changed. Are we going to live in a world where the lines between military and local law enforcement are going to be permanently blurred?

There was a recognition after 9/11 and the passing of the Patriot Act that there have to be logical changes to some of the old theories of the world. In the Cold War, it was a whole different equation.

When then United States government made a command in North America, there was a recognition that there was an internal threat that we needed to be deal with. The Air Force response to 9/11, for instance, had to be smoothed out and corrected and put in place so that if there was another threat like that, there could be military assets put into the air.

Similarly, when you're talking about an incident occurring in an urban area, General Scott Rice came to me within 15 or 20 minutes of the bombs going off and said, “I have troops available, do you need them?”

The problem I was facing was that I had a 20-block crime scene, I have 2,200 cops in Boston. It would take several hundred to secure the crime scene. I had to pursue an investigation. In addition to protecting the crime scene, I had to chase these guys. And then I got to answer the calls that we get every day on homicides and shootings and everything else that was happening. So I said, “Damn, yes, I needed troops. How many can you get me?”

By 5:00 that afternoon, he had 1500 on the ground literally two to three hours after the incident happened. They helped us protect the crime scene and he was tremendous. He said these troops are under your command at this point in time. For the first five hours, through the ICS, Integrated Command System, and the National Incident Management System, these guys were working for me and I could get them deployed where I needed them. It was a seamless connection, no arguing, no discussion, and it got the job done.

Those kinds of practical problems that you face in a situation like this can be helped by the military. We can have a situation like we had in Katrina where there was this terrible, multiple-day delay before federal assets were put on the ground and the situation was stabilized. It needs to be incorporated into our planning. And quite frankly it has been since 9/11. I think it worked very well in Boston and I think the bones of that are well documented in the movie.

Boston, MA - Commissioner Edward Davis and Superintendent William Evans (L) on the scene where police were investigating the area where there was a police involved shooting of a man late Tuesday afternoon. Boston Herald staff photo by John Wilcox.

John Goodman portrays Ed Davis in "Patriots Day."

You had had some training at Quantico. Is that another post-9/11 effect for local police forces or is that an ongoing program that predates those attacks?

Quantico had several programs that local police were able to attend, but they’ve certainly stepped up since 9/11. The FBI has played an important role in helping us understand what the threat is and allowed us to come into the training facilities at Quantico. We've also done training with the military in different bases and different operations over the years and that’s been very helpful to us.

There should be restrictions on things. We don’t want to turn our troops against our civilian populations. But in cases where there's a foreign-motivated enemy attacking us, if civilian authorities need help they should be able to get it.

The film presents an interesting version of the Tsarnaev brothers. Tamerlan seems much more of an immigrant and less connected to American culture, but Dzhokhar seems like just another American kid. Do you think that’s an accurate portrayal?

I'm not sure how much evidence there was that it played out exactly like that, so I wouldn’t argue with that portrayal. But for me it really makes no difference. Dzhokhar put that explosive down behind a young family, Jane and Martin Richard, who were 8 and 9 years old. He dropped that backpack directly behind them and killed Martin and Jane’s leg was amputated. When he did that, his motivations prior to that really made no difference to me. That in and of itself was enough to prosecute him the way that we did.

No matter what you say motivated him to do those things, it really doesn’t make any difference. He made a decision as a human being to do what he did, you know?

Boston, MA - Commissioner Edward Davis and Superintendent William Evans (L) on the scene where police were investigating the area where there was a police involved shooting of a man late Tuesday afternoon. Boston Herald staff photo by John Wilcox.

Ed Davis and director Peter Berg talk about the film in Boston.

Absolutely, but one of the standard things we've always believed in American culture is that our culture, when people are exposed to it, transforms them and they're less likely to do things like that when they understand our values. To me, it was chilling that such an Americanized kid would be motivated to do that.

Yeah, I agree. It was chilling to me too. There's no argument there at all.

What do you think the roles or responsibilities for local police forces will be to monitor this kind of radicalization?

Domestic intelligence gathering and spying on people is something that we stayed completely out of for many years. The importance of intelligence now has been clearly brought home to us since 9/11, so we're engaged in moving information around.

I think the role of local police should be playing in this issue is a role of getting to know the community and building relationships, especially in the Muslim community, where some of this threat is emanating from. Build relationships with the Muslim community so that they trust us enough to tell us that someone in their community has become radicalized.

That’s how we get information on every other type of crime that there is. Even domestic violence crimes. There's nothing more personal than a father that’s physically assaulting his wife. Families call us about those situations because they trust us. That same type of mentality has to occur when we're talking about extremism.

Tamerlan acted out in the mosque. He was banned from the mosque because of his extremist views, but no one thought to call us to tell us that that was the case. If we had received that call and combined that information with the FSU letter that we had received with the FBI two years before, that would have reinvigorated an investigation that might have stopped this from happening. That’s the key component here, making sure that we are not spying on people in mosques, but getting to know them. That’s the key role of local police.

Do you think Boston has done a good job of that since this incident?

They have. They’ve been working on it. As a matter of fact, one of the first things that we did, the United States attorney and myself, was to pull together groups of Muslims that we hadn't talked to. We previously had our outreach program to the Muslim community, but it was the same people that came in time and time again.

We realized that was one of the faults. We felt comfortable that we were talking to the Muslim community, but it was only individuals. It should be a broad range of people that we continually connect with. And it shouldn’t just happen between the police chief and the United States attorney and the mayor. It's gotta happen among police officers. In other words, this relationship needs to be pushed out to the lowest levels of the organization so that trust is developed and relationships are developed that are much broader than the political niceties of what we do.

Boston, MA - Commissioner Edward Davis and Superintendent William Evans (L) on the scene where police were investigating the area where there was a police involved shooting of a man late Tuesday afternoon. Boston Herald staff photo by John Wilcox.

Ed Davis, director Peter Berg and actor Mark Wahlberg appear at a "Patriots Day" press conference in Boston.

Boston is a place full of patriotism and pride but, in some ways, it also seems like it has a separate culture from the rest of the United States.

I think that’s true for a lot of sections of the country, even the world. People identify regionally and have unique perspectives on things and unique kind of history and experiences. Living through the blizzard of '78 and the blizzard of 2014, kind of collectively dealing with traffic in Boston and things like that, people get to know each other and there's a sense of camaraderie among people who have been through different difficulties in their life.

In Boston, there is a toughness there in that community that you don’t find everywhere and I think it manifested itself during this event. Not only in the way that people responded to help us and to cooperate with us when we lock down a section of the city to search for these guys. But also in the way that they rebounded afterwards. The fact that they pulled together, the resilience was high, and the community ended up stronger than they were beforehand. If there's one thing that our enemies need to understand, it’s that it's futile to do what they're doing because the thing that’s contrary to what they want is exactly what happens.

I can't imagine any other place I've lived where people would have cooperated with what was necessary during the manhunt.

I was shocked myself. We asked people -- we didn’t order people to stay home. There were no arrests made. We simply said shelter in place, stay in your houses as if this was a snowstorm. And I remember around 2:30 or 3:00 that afternoon I saw a video feed of Park Street and Tremont Street. And there wasn’t one person in a car. And it was like, holy Jesus, they listened to us. It was really amazing.

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