Last Friday was a good day to be a cop, Revere Police Chief Joe Cafarelli contends.
Naturally, after a week of turmoil, it was especially meaningful for Revere folks and for Revere Police when Cafarelli and his North Metro SWAT team were front and center in the arrest of accused Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Cafarelli was seen checking the boat where Tsarnaev was hiding immediately after his capture.
Other Revere officers on the SWAT team – made up of around 30 officers from the forces of Revere, Everett and Malden – were also instrumental, including one officer from Ward 6 who actually handcuffed the suspected terrorist.
“At one point there was an arrest team put together while we were on Franklin Street in Watertown last Friday,” said Cafarelli. “Revere, Everett, Malden and the T Police happened to be the officers there when it formed. We weren’t singled out or anything. We were just there and ready. We were fortunate enough to be the team that took him in.
“We pulled him off the boat,” Cafarelli continued. “Our fear was that we had heard he could have explosives on him.
We went in and quickly searched his torso for explosives and didn’t find any. I just jumped in the boat to make sure we didn’t miss another person in there who might come up from behind and ambush us. I just went in there to make sure it was all clear.”
As he did that, the officers from the SWAT team subdued the Tsarnaev and the officer from Ward 6 handcuffed him and put out the famous police radio announcement, “North Metro SWAT has one in custody.”
For the safety and privacy of the officers on the team, Cafarelli said he preferred to keep their names out of print – though many have already been mentioned in public forums.
The North Metro team has been in existence for several years, many times responding to tense situations around the area. It was formed out of a Special Operations Unit of the Revere Police that started in 2004 during the fallout from 9/11. Cafarelli directed the unit and it was made up of all volunteers. A few years later, the Revere crew merged its efforts with Everett and Malden.
Last Monday, in the wake of the Marathon bombing, the team was called into Boston along with hundreds of other law enforcement teams from several states.
The North Metro team also accompanied the security contingent when President Barack Obama visited the Cathedral in the South End.
However, it was the events of last Friday morning and evening that stood to distinguish the team – though Cafarelli was adamant in stating it was a collaborative effort.
“It was great to be there, but really, if I could stress one thing, it’s just that it was a collective effort of law enforcement like I’ve never seen in my life,” he said. “That kid felt the brunt of law enforcement from all over the state. There was no way out. We were fortunate to be a part of it, but it was a remarkable collective effort from local, state and federal law enforcement.”
The North Metro got called in to Watertown around 3 a.m. last Friday, shortly after a wild chase and dramatic gunfight played out on the streets of that city. Tsarnaev had escaped and law enforcement needed every tactical team available to help search the homes within the 20-block perimeter.
Taking their armored SWAT Humvee with them, Cafarelli said they were assigned to a certain section and searched inside and outside numerous homes with no results.
“The people in Watertown were great,” he said. “We searched numerous homes and not one person didn’t want us there. In fact, they brought us fruit and water when we were at their homes because they knew we’d been searching for so many hours without a break.”
After 14 hours of continuous searching, Cafarelli said North Metro was ready to rotate out and stand down.
They were exhausted.
But then duty called.
“We were ready to move off rotation when, as luck would have it, we had just completed our last search with the Boston Police SWAT team,” said Cafarelli. “That’s when they got the call to respond to Franklin Street immediately. The Boston team leader said, ‘We’re going.’ I said, ‘We’re coming with you,’ and he said, ‘Ok, let’s go.’ We convoyed over to Franklin Street together. Boston took the right side of the house and we took the left side. Others then came in and filled the perimeter around the house. Everyone was there, all working together…There were some we hadn’t trained with before, but it’s pick-up basketball. We just work through those problems.”
Cafarelli said they waited alertly for a couple of hours while federal negotiators moved in to talk with the suspect; to convince him to come out peacefully.
As time went by though, Cafarelli said the team began to wonder if they were on another false trail – something that had happened to them over and over that day.
“You start to second guess because there had been so much misinformation during the course of the day,” he said. “You maintain a certain level of alert waiting. It’s hard to maintain, but you have to stay on top of your game. There were so many reports – some factual and some erroneous. As I sat on the perimeter, I began to think, ‘What if this blood is just from some guy who was working on his boat and had a heart attack.’ When the heat poked his head out from the tarp, though, I saw that distinctive tuft of hair. His hair was very distinctive. I knew then we had the right guy.”
It was then that law enforcement – including the North Metro SWAT with its Revere contingent – was able to storm the boat and take Tsarnaev into custody after an intense 16-hour manhunt.
Cafarelli – a former Marine who served in Lebanon during the 1983 bombing – said he was uniquely experienced to perform such a duty. He also said that all the training and equipment that has been poured into the local SWAT team for the last several years paid off in one week.
“We needed all the equipment and more,” he said. “Last Friday justified all the training and equipment and everything else that has gone into law enforcement over the last several years. We had an international terrorism event in Boston and I’m proud to say we all rose to the occasion.”
The big payoff, he said, came soon after the arrest – when the intensity ratcheted down a bit and he was able to witness the crowds that swarmed the streets.
“You’re coming off the emotion you go through for the operation; you’re keyed up,” he said. “We get the guy and you defer to your training. It’s an arrest…You act without processing it yet. As we came out, though, afterward, and saw the crowds and accolades for law enforcement, it was incredible. It was absolutely overwhelming. It was a good day to be a cop.”
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