Boston Police Commissioner Davis On The Most Complicated Investigation Of His Career

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Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis at the WBUR studios. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis at the WBUR studios. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The name of Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis became a household one in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. He joined Radio Boston to discuss his tenure at the head of the Boston Police Department and what it was like to work on the largest most complicated investigation in his career.

Interview Highlights

Where were you and how did you first hear about the bombs that went off on Boylston Street?

I had been at the finish line actually when the race started and the elite runners came across and finished the race in a fashion that we follow every year. We had the male and female winners, and Gov. Patrick was there and crowned the winners with the laurel wreath. Then some of the more regular runners started to came across I was there for about an hour or so. And then I left to take a call, I had a business call that I had to be on for a period of time.

I understand the business call was with Vice President Biden, about gun control legislation.

That's right, the vice president was assembling a group of police chiefs, there were five or six of us on a conversation with him about that issue and we were talking with him about that and that took about 45 minutes to an hour.

I had just hung the phone up and the phone rang again. It was [Superintendent in Chief] Daniel Linskey and he said to me, "Hey boss, we've got two explosions, we’re getting reports from the finish line." He happened to be in Kenmore Square, he was racing back in a police car to Boylston Street and so he started to describe to me what he was hearing on the radio. One of our great, experienced sergeants, Dan Keeler, was there. Danny was yelling for help, and for all the ambulances that he could get and we realized that this was a very serious situation.

When you arrived and saw the carnage and the chaos what was your first reaction?

I felt much like I did on 9/11, actually, when I saw that second plane hit the building. It was clearly, terrible injuries, people badly hurt and a large volume of blood. It was a battlefield scene, is what I saw.

Your demeanor is usually, even on a very calm day, so steady. But your steadiness is something that people were remarking on in the period of that week. But for you internally, did you have to steal yourself moment by moment? How did you get in the zone to deal with this situation?

It’s certainly a troubling thing to see and I think when I arrived there there was a moment where I thought about the aftermath of this and the various things that would happen in the normal course of an investigation of this magnitude that had such an effect on our city.

But the truth is I've had an enormous amount of experience. I've traveled overseas and worked with the metropolitan police in London. I was schooled in how they handled their investigation into the tube bombing in 2005. So I had been at Scotland Yard, met with the commissioner, he laid out the case to us, how they investigated it, what the bombs looked like and how they put it together. I think that was very helpful to me when I arrived at the scene because I know that there was a process and i just started that process.

You are a career police officer, you got your start as a beat cop in Lowell and worked your way up to leading the Lowell Police Department before coming here. Was there anything about that actual on-the-ground experience from those early days policing that kicked in during the bombing?

Sure, you're a product of all your experiences, and so I have a personal knowledge of how the police feel when they’re dealing with something like this because I've been there. I've never worked something of this magnitude, but I have a sense of how the cops feel. I've worked with the community for 35 years and I know how difficult that is from that perspective. Working for Mayor Menino over the last six or seven years has really been an education for me in what it takes to operate a large city and all of those things can come together during the course of this thing.

Was there a point during in the course of those first hours where you just thought to yourself this is actually happening and it's happening in my city?

Over and over again, that comes to your mind when you're in the middle of something like this. It’s really an awesome responsibility to have to deal with something of this magnitude, so everyone once and awhile you get caught up in that thought.

But the truth of the matter is there were so many decisions that had to be made, and so much information coming in that it was really important to stabilize the scene, stabilize the victims. Our main goal was to prevent any further attacks and so a lot had to be done and so reflecting on it had to be put aside.


Edward Davis, Boston Police commissioner

This article was originally published on July 16, 2013.

This segment aired on July 16, 2013.


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