Brookline Police Chief Daniel O’Leary has served our Town as Chief for the last 20 years. Known for his calm demeanor, thoughtful approach and steady hand, he doesn’t fit the fire and brimstone image many have when they think of a police chief.
The Boston Marathon has always been a big part of Chief O’Leary’s life. He practically grew up on the route. He watched as the runners raced down Beacon Street every year from childhood until he joined the force. He then worked the Marathon nearly every one of his 37 years on the Brookline PD. In 2003, he even trained for and completed the Boston Marathon.
O’Leary walked the Beacon Street Brookline section of the race with his son while his son was still young. Now every Marathon day he walks Beacon Street with Town Administrator Mel Kleckner, DPW Commissioner Andy Pappastergion, and Health Department Director Alan Balsam.
Marathon Day on April 2013 ended much differently than the previous 115 races. Two bombs planted by terrorist brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev stole the lives of Krystle Campbell, Lingzi Lu and eight-year old Martin Richard; and seriously injured at least 264 more. Later that week they murdered MIT Police Officer Sean Collier and injured other officers in the subsequent shootout.
When the bombs went off, Chief O’Leary was on Beacon and Charles Streets by the Coolidge Corner Post Office with the kids from the nonprofit group Griffin’s Friends. Griffin’s Friends is a group of volunteers dedicated to providing support to children with cancer. The Town allows the Griffin’s Friends bus to double-park so the kids can use the bus to get out of the sun or rest.
Because so many people witness the marathon live every year, civilians and authorities found out about the tragedy simultaneously. One of the volunteers for Griffin’s Friends told the Chief she had been told that bombs had gone off at the finish line. The Chief called dispatch and got the confirmation he was dreading—Brookline Police confirmed the news they just received that the Boston Marathon had been bombed. Officials were stopping the race.
The Chief met immediately with Brookline Police Superintendent Mark Morgan. The Chief and Superintendent assembled pertinent members of the Brookline Police, Fire, Department of Public Works, ambulance response team and all-important Brookline personnel to the Town’s Emergency Command Post located on the median strip of Beacon and Marion Streets. Captain Michael Gropman was the incident commander for the race and coordinated Brookline’s precision response.
Brookline DPW workers were given the nerve-wracking assignment of cleaning up after things had quieted down enough. Part of this assignment meant emptying the barrels along Beacon Street; early reports indicated the two detonated bombs near the finish line were placed in barrels before they exploded. Chief O’Leary commented, “I don’t think DPW gets enough credit for their role in the marathon bombing response”.
The streets were cleared within 45 minutes. With the help of Brookline PD, bars and restaurants voluntarily shut down. Beacon Street outbound was cleared so ambulances and emergency vehicles could have free access. Police were instructed to let all medical people pass through Beacon Street so they could help.
The atmosphere in Brookline on the marathon route—usually a boisterous scene of cheering crowds and activity—became eerily quiet. People came out of their homes to help and runners were cooperative even under these extreme and terrifying circumstances. Civilians and town employees worked together. The police were everything we needed them to be and more. In describing the actions of his men, Chief O’Leary put it simply, as is his way, “Our officers knew what to do.”
Temple Ohabei Shalom on Beacon Street opened their doors and provided shelter to the runners.
During the week members of the Brookline Police Special Response team worked 18 hour shifts protecting the Brigham and Woman’s, Children‘s and BI Deaconess Hospitals. During the chase from MIT to Watertown, Brookline PD was at the ready, as the chance of the deadly chase ending up within our borders was very real.
Brookline’s response did not come in a vacuum. Brookline is part of the nine- community Urban Areas Security Initiative that also includes Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Quincy, Revere, Somerville and Winthrop. Emergency response teams from each of these communities do training exercises together, focusing on security and preparedness. The National Guard BU, and Sheriff’s department—while not part of the UASI—works with them during the marathon lead-up and at the race itself.
O’Leary told me, “We do a lot of table top exercises. A scenario is put up on the board. If this scenario happens, what would you do? Then we go through every department from every town to make sure everyone knows their role. In the aftermath of the marathon bombing, all the surrounding communities knew what the other could do because we trained together and trusted each other. This year, we’ve worked on three or four different marathon scenarios.”
Despite the amped up security made necessary by the tragic events of 2013, Chief O’Leary and his Force have not forgotten what the Boston Marathon has been about the last 118 years.
“While we are focused on security, we do that while understanding people are there to enjoy themselves. That’s what the Boston Marathon is about,” the Chief said.
This year as an added measure of security, nobody will be allowed to cross Beacon Street from 11:45 to 4pm. After 4pm, Brookline PD has set three locations to cross with police supervision: Tappan, Webster, and Hawes Streets.
There are no words or superlatives strong enough to give proper justice to the actions and bravery of all those who were part of the Brookline’s response on that awful day and the days that followed. We live in a time when we are flooded with reports of Police overreaction to stressful situations and misuse of deadly force. Faced with a nightmare scenario, the Brookline Police Department, as well as other essential town services, were prepared, efficient, accountable, and just as important, calm. While there were too many heroes to count during that fateful time, those qualities of preparedness, efficiency, accountability, and calmness are just what we’ve come to expect from Brookline Police Chief Daniel O’Leary.
—R. Harvey Bravman, Publisher