“We got him! Thank God, we got him!”
With those words late Friday night, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino captured the spirit of just about everyone in Greater Boston, and really across the nation, upon the capture of accused Boston Marathon bombing terrorist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Watertown.
And after the intense, exhaustive manhunt that brought a virtual lockdown of Boston and its immediate suburbs — and sent ripple effects up the silent commuter rail lines to the Merrimack Valley — all of the police officers, SWAT teams and National Guard personnel, including local police personnel deployed as part of two different regional response teams, finally had reason to cheer and be cheered.
But Menino’s “We got him” line speaks to a much broader “we” than to the thousands of law enforcement personnel who spent days combing the chilling Marathon bombing scene, then — after a surreal chase and firefight in a crowded Watertown neighborhood — going door-to-door in their search for the suspect.
Despite all of their efforts, let us remember that just when Friday’s all-day manhunt seemed to be coming up empty, just as officials lifted the “shelter in place” order and the MBTA service shutdown, it was a simple call from a Watertown resident who had been shut in all day, then stepped outside and noticed that someone had tampered with his shrink-wrapped boat, that finally led police to their man.
We should never forget that last Monday’s horrific terrorist attacks were clearly aimed at causing maximum harm not to the world’s elite runners, who passed the finish line hours before the bombings, but to dedicated New Englanders, other Americans and international visitors who ran for the sport of it or were watching their family members, friends and neighbors finish in a day of personal triumph.
Likewise, we can and should never forget that, in the end, it was rank-and-file Bostonians, New Englanders and especially a guy living in the heart of a Watertown neighborhood who helped track down these vicious killers, responding with countless tips after the FBI reached out for help with a video and photos showing the suspects, and a phone call that finally led police to the suspect when he was hiding in a boat stored behind a neighborhood home.
For all the understandable relief and downright exhilaration we all felt Friday night, we must remember that there are many questions still to be answered regarding these attacks, most notably how and why.
And there are many lessons to be learned as well, especially regarding complacency and vigilance.
But one of the most important lessons shining throughout this saga is the importance of a cooperative spirit between a community and its police force.
Indeed, considering Watertown and other residents’ cooperation with an unprecedented, large-scale “shelter in place” order and the tip that led to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s capture, this may be the ultimate example of what community policing can do.
True community policing can really be summed up in just a few words: a shared respect between police and residents, and one of community policing projects’ trademark lines: “If you see something, say something.”
Thank God, in this case, enough people did.