Marathon Investigation Reveals Power of Police, Media and Citizen Engagement

April 26, 2013
by Sarah Abrams, Communications Office

Days after Boston’s almost week-long ordeal came to an end, Christine Cole MC/MPA 2001, executive director of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, has only praise for the way in which law enforcement, the media, and the public worked together to help police identify and capture suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings.

Cole, who has worked for many years in justice and safety management at both the state and local levels, describes police work throughout the week as outstanding. Law enforcement’s request to the public for assistance, she says, set the stage for a week during which police and the community were all working together.

Within hours of the explosions, she says, law enforcement was asking the public to share information.

“One of the first things the police asked of the citizens who were there was to ‘share your information with us. Share with us your photos, your videos, and your observations’. That was obviously a strategic request for help, but it also signals that witnesses are important, that the community is important,” Cole says. “Fast forward then to Friday. It wasn’t a mandate. It wasn’t a requirement. It wasn’t martial law. It was a request to shelter in place, and look how people responded to that.

“Everything that happened between Monday — give us your data — to Friday — shelter in place — created a sense among the people who live and work and play here that they were actually helping law enforcement respond. People really felt committed and a part of this process to get the answers and help. I think that’s pretty extraordinary.”

This cooperative spirit played out in numerous ways throughout the week, Cole pointed out. Coordination within law enforcement as well as between police and the media —groups often at odds— was impressive. At a press conference after the bombing suspect was apprehended, the head of the state police publicly thanked the media for everything they did to help police keep the public informed. “That’s unprecedented,” Cole said.

Law enforcement’s participation in social media to both get and correct information was also remarkable, says Cole. When erroneous reporting on twitter claimed a suspect was in custody, police corrected the misinformation through the same vehicle.

“It showed,” Cole says, “that law enforcement values that simultaneous conversation online that’s happening and the validity of that conversation enough to participate in it.”

Overall, Cole believes that the events of the past ten days have shown the successful results of democratic policing. They illustrate “how citizens will participate and engage and share information freely when they trust that law enforcement is going to do the right thing for them,” Cole says. “There was already some foundation for that, but I think the experience of the last week has increased a sense of shared responsibility and trust.”

Christine Cole

Christine Cole MC/MPA 2001, executive director of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management

“Everything that happened between Monday — give us your data — to Friday — shelter in place — created a sense among the people who live and work and play here that they were actually helping law enforcement respond. People really felt committed and a part of this process to get the answers and help. I think that’s pretty extraordinary.”


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