Q&A with Ed Davis

Ed Davis

April 15, 2013, began as a typical Patriots’ Day for Ed Davis. As the police commissioner of the Boston Police Department, Davis was in charge of security for the Boston Marathon. By mid-afternoon, he would be supervising an otherworldly crime scene and a police force numbering in the thousands, all tasked with supporting the victims and finding the perpetrators behind a devastating act of homegrown terrorism.

The events and players surrounding the Boston Marathon bombings are the subject of Patriots Day, a new movie in theaters January 13. The film stars John Goodman as Davis and Mark Wahlberg as a fictional police sergeant. Davis, who has since retired from the Boston Police Department, will visit the Florida Atlantic University Lifelong Learning Society campus in Jupiter February 2 to discuss his experience. Here, he shares his thoughts about policing, the film, and the bombings.

Why he become a police officer: “I made the decision early. I was going from high school into college, [and] my dad was a police office, so I had a chance to see the business very personally. I really didn’t like the idea of working behind a desk. I wanted to be out in the community.”

His experience of the bombings: “The marathon is an interesting day [because] it’s a holiday for everyone in Boston. We have to work to provide security for the event, but it’s kind of a laidback day. Nobody has suits on. Everybody is dressed down. First, we review the security protocols and there are a lot of precautionary steps we take. We make sure the mayor and the governor get in safely, and then we watch the event. The elite runners come across, both male and female, and they get crowned. Then it turns into more of a local event. It’s an international race up until that time but then it turns into a great day of socializing and talking to people and having a good time. That’s pretty much what we were prepared for.

“I had to leave the event after the elite runners came across to take a phone call with the White House. Myself and five of my colleagues from across the country were talking with Vice President Biden, and just as I hung up, there was another call and my chief of department informed me that there had been two explosions. I was hoping it was something not malevolent but some type of utility incident or something that could be explained away. But we quickly realized that was not the case. As soon as he described the injuries involved, it was clear it was an improvised explosive device. So I immediately called the FBI and the state police for assistance, and I was back at the scene in less than 10 minutes.”

What surprised him most about the bombers: “How normal they both looked. There was no way you could have picked these two guys out from the crowd. They could have been any two college students of the million college students we have across the city, so that was striking.”

Boston’s response to the attack: “The first response was abject fear. People, quite frankly, did not know where to go or what to do. [But] that was just a momentary response. Very quickly, that first hesitation turned into a really powerful, cohesive response by the city to first run these guys down and then to rally behind the victims.”

John Goodman as Ed Davis in the new film Patriots Day. (Image courtesy of CBS Films)

Unexpected outpouring of support: “I remember seeing #BostonStrong halfway through the event, and that hashtag was emblematic of how resilient the people in the city are. That struck me, and also the sign outside Yankee Stadium that read, ‘We’re with you guys.’ I never in my life thought that would happen.”

Biggest lesson from the experience: “The importance of collaboration and the fact that teamwork really is crucial. If you exercise that, as I’ve tried to my whole life, there comes a time when it makes all the difference.”

View of policing today: “I was involved in police change my whole career as a police chief. So for 20 years, I really focused on implementing community policing programs. In the face of 9/11, there’s a dichotomy in policing that requires an officer to be Officer Friendly one moment and then to transition very quickly into a military mode when stuff like this happens. It’s that balance that officers need to learn to be effective in today’s environment, and it’s very difficult to do.”

Response to Patriots Day being made: “I was most concerned about the victims. I really wanted to make sure that whatever was done respected the victims. The people involved, particularly [the director] Peter [Berg] and Mark, have gone above and beyond what I expected.”

Reaction to being portrayed by John Goodman: “I’m incredibly flattered. I’ve had the chance to get to know him a little bit. It’s still surreal. He’s incredibly talented. He lives the role, and I think you’ll see that.”

What audiences should take away from the film: “I hope they recognize that in today’s environment anybody can be thrust into a situation where they might have to exercise leadership or traits that they never expected, and I’m a perfect example of that.”

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