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How To Lock Down A City


This is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Coming up, we are going to dig into the new Senate bill that would dramatically overhaul the country's immigration framework. We want to answer as many questions as we can about the bill, and also talk about what it says, or what it might say, about what immigration means to the American people right now.

But first, a major American city has been at a standstill after major developments in the marathon bombing investigation. The entire Boston metro area has been closed down since an overnight police chase and a violent shootout in Watertown, Mass., with two young men who were named as suspects in Monday's bomb attack on the Boston Marathon.

We're trying to wrap our heads around the logistics of shutting down a major metropolitan area, so we've called Neil Minkoff. He lives in the Boston area. He's one of our regular Barbershop guys. And Brian Paddick is also with us. He's a former deputy assistant commissioner for the London Police, and he was on the force during the 2005 bombings in that city's transit system. Welcome to you both. Thank you both so much for speaking with us.

BRIAN PADDICK: Good morning.

NEIL MINKOFF: Thanks, Michel.

MARTIN: Neil, let me start with you, and I'll just play for people what Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick - and this is him announcing this advisory for Boston area residents. Let's hear it.

GOVERNOR DEVAL PATRICK: We're asking people to shelter in place; in other words, to stay indoors with their doors locked and not to open the door for anyone other than a properly identified law enforcement officer. This is a serious situation. We're taking it seriously. We're asking the public to take it seriously as well, and to assist law enforcement by following those simple instructions.

MARTIN: Neil, have you ever experienced anything like this?

MINKOFF: No. Nothing like this. I mean, it's not uncommon up here to hear something like that when there's been a giant blizzard or there's trouble, you know; something like that, where there's natural forces at work, and the city asks for people not to come in just so that they can dig out and unbury the city. But nothing for a reason like this has ever happened, as far as I know, in Boston since, you know, the British.

MARTIN: So the kids are already out of school this week, right? I mean, this was a school break anyway. So what are people doing? I mean, are they glued to the television? What are you doing?

MINKOFF: People are - a lot of people seem to be catching up in the suburbs on their yard work. A lot of people are kind of milling around, and are not sure what to do. And a lot of people are trying to figure out how much work they can do with a laptop and a phone, as opposed to driving someplace. So, you know, that's what my day is being converted to.

MARTIN: Is it frightening? I understand that your kids, because they were already on school break, were already on a holiday. But, I don't know, it has to be frightening. Or does it feel frightening?

MINKOFF: It's petrifying.


MINKOFF: You know, I actually did go into the city today before I kind of realized the severity of everything. And I had some paperwork to drop off and I, you know, it's eerie. It's deserted. It's like something out of a science fiction movie. It's like, you know, it's - there just aren't the right number of people milling around and a lot, a lot, of police presence.

So it actually felt more frightening to see it than it did to hear about it on the radio or watch it on television this morning.

MARTIN: Brian Paddick, let's turn to you when London dealt with those terrorist bombings. I mean, obviously, you know, London has a long history of dealing with terrorism for a variety of reasons. But the attacks, the specific attacks that we're talking about here, those were understood to be suicide bombings. But how does law enforcement go about making a decision to do something like this?

PADDICK: Well, clearly safety of the public is paramount. And what we were most concerned about when the bombs went off in 2005, two of them on the subway system, one of them on a coach, was to make sure that there weren't any more bombs that were going to explode, and therefore to keep people off the transit system for that reason.

It was - and when these bombs went off on the seventh of July 2005, we - they were suicide bombers. So there was no manhunt. We knew that the people who had detonated these explosives had gone up with their bombs. It was two weeks later when another team tried to replicate that terrorist act where the bombs didn't actually go off where we got into a manhunt situation.

And in that situation, you know, London is very different from Boston. Boston is, what, you know, 600,000-odd inhabitants. London is eight million. You might be looking for a needle in a haystack; we were looking for a grain of sand in a sandbox. So in terms of shutting down, in terms of telling people not to go out, it just wasn't an option for London.

MARTIN: There was also kind of a terrible thing that went wrong in the course of that subsequent event, that subsequent hunt that you were talking about there where a civilian was killed on the subway. How do you think about that now? Was it because of the, what, just the heightened tension because of the fact that people were on such - they were so upset because there was such a sense of - I don't want to use the term hysteria.

I'm going to ask you to characterize it. You know, why do you think that happened? And is there some lesson that can be learned from that?

PADDICK: I mean, you've touched a sensitive spot here. I actually resigned from the police service over the way that incident was dealt with. But basically, there was a whole series of mistakes. There was supposed to be surveillance kept on a particular building and the guy wasn't watching the front door when the guy came out of the building so they weren't sure whether it was the terrorist or not.

He looked sort of vaguely sort of Middle Eastern. It turned out that he was Brazilian. The team of armed officers that went in pursuit of him were filling up with gas, therefore, they were a long way behind him. There were a whole series of mistakes. The whole policy of dealing with the suicide bomber was flawed and the consequence was an innocent person was killed.

Those people who, you know, sort of are apologists for the police in terms of what happened on that day say, well, look, you know, London was a war footing. You know, everybody was heightened tension. And indeed, the armed officers who shot this innocent man said, you know, they honestly believed this was a guy with a bomb about to detonate and therefore it was a case of it's either going to be him or us.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we are speaking with former London Police official Brian Paddick and also Neil Minkoff. He's one of our regulars. He lives in the Boston area. And we're talking about the developing situation in Boston where the police are searching for a man who was believed to be the second suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing. His brother and the man who's believed to be his co-conspirator has already died.

Neil, you know, it's interesting to sort of think about the London situation because one of the investigative tools there was what they call the ring of steel around the city of London, which had multiple cameras at any time. In the U.S. we've been very ambivalent about this. And I'm just interested - I know this is all very new but are you, your neighbors, thinking about the whole question of surveillance and what it means?

MINKOFF: Yeah. So those conversations are starting to pop up a little bit, especially - I think that there were two interesting conversations that were happening over the last few days. One was some relief, some happiness, almost, that there was enough surveillance and enough cameras in the spot to be able to start to identify potential suspects quickly.

But there was also many people up here who were saying wait a second? We're on camera that much already? And I think if anything I've heard more skepticism about heightened surveillance than less just because I don't think people realize just how obvious or how massive the amount of footage already was just between the department stores, the city, and then everybody's smartphone.

I think a lot of people were shocked at just how much footage there could be at any given point already.

MARTIN: Brian, the London Marathon is coming up this Sunday, as I understand it.


MARTIN: Is there - and, obviously, this story is still unfolding. We don't know as much as we would like to know about what the motivations were behind this event in Boston, but are there heightened concerns there now about the London event? And are there any final thoughts you wanted to share with Americans who are still relatively new to dealing with these kinds of incidents?

PADDICK: Sure. I mean, as far as the London Marathon is concerned, I mean, terrorism is something that London is used to. Before, it was Irish Republican terrorism and then we've had these al-Qaida linked attacks more recently and, therefore, you know, the police department in London is very used to dealing with these sort of very large events and very, very much aware of the potential for problems.

So, yeah, the only way in which the police will now be sort of a little bit more nervous is because, if something were to happen on Sunday at the London Marathon, there will be critics all turned around and saying, well, hang on a minute. Didn't you learn the lesson from Boston? But, you know, there are not many lessons, to be quite honest, that London hasn't learned already because of its experience.

MARTIN: I was going to ask that. What lesson is there to learn?

PADDICK: Well, really, there isn't. We still don't know the motivation of these guys. We don't know whether it was sort of American-specific that they had an issue with or whether there was, you know, something that will impact on the U.K., as well, so we don't know whether this makes the London Marathon more of a target because of what's happened in Boston. We have no idea.

But we do know from - if it was anything to do with al-Qaida or even, you know, anything else, that coordinated attacks across different countries of this sort are very unusual, so it would be unusual for that.

You know, the thing that we mustn't do and the thing that Londoners were very good about is we mustn't allow the terrorists to rule our lives, to stop us going about our day-to-day duty. OK? You've got a manhunt going on at the moment in Boston and it's understandable that people are in lockdown, but after that, you know, we can not allow - you know, as President Obama said yesterday, we can not allow these terrorists to diminish the spirit of freedom that we treasure and we must not allow these terrorists to cower us into behaving differently. We've got to show them that they cannot win, whatever they do.

MARTIN: Neil, I think you're going to stay with us, aren't you? We're going to check in with you later. You'll join us in your usual seat in the Barbershop? That's right?

MINKOFF: I need a trim. I'll be in the Barbershop.

MARTIN: All right. So we'll check back with you later. Neil Minkoff is one of our regulars. He's going to stick around and join us in his usual seat in the Barbershop. Brian Paddick is the former deputy assistant commissioner for the London Police. He was kind enough to join us from the studios of the BBC in London.

Brian Paddick, thank you so much for joining us.

PADDICK: It's a pleasure.

MARTIN: Neil, we'll see you later.

MINKOFF: Yeah, thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.