Part 4 of 4 Articles the Author of In Pursuit the Hunt for the Beltway Snipers wrote for Homeland Security Today. The multi jurisdictional Task Force an effective tool for law enforcement.

The Inside Story of Snagging the Beltway Snipers: Lessons on Forging Task-Force Ties Now

December 21, 2018 David Reichenbaugh

This is Part Three of a four-part series on the 2002 Beltway Snipers killing spree in collaboration with the former criminal intelligence operations commander for the Maryland State Police and commanding officer at the scene during the snipers’ capture in Myersville, Md. Read Part One, Part Two, and Part Three

For 23 days in October 2002, the mid-Atlantic region of our country, especially the DMV – District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia – were held hostage during the reign of terror and murder of unsuspecting, random citizens by the Beltway Snipers. Ten citizens were gunned down and four more wounded in the span of three weeks in the DMV using a high-velocity .223 caliber rifle at distance. The citizens were in fear of getting shot while doing things that before the shootings were considered routine, such as getting gas for the car or walking into or out of a grocery store.

Due to the randomness of the killings and shootings – and coming on the heels of the 911 attacks and the anthrax case – the public was gripped by terror. The national media was in a frenzy, creating even more panic and casting doubt on whether law enforcement officers were going to be able to run the killers to ground, and the police were struggling to come up with motive and suspects. It was obvious from the first day of the sniper investigation that law enforcement was going to have to step out of a traditional comfort zone regarding homicide investigations in order to identify the killers then bring their three-week killing spree to an end. A traditional homicide investigation was not going to cut it.  Killings were happening faster than could be managed, stressing local police resources to the maximum, and the crime scene quickly stretched into two states and the District of Columbia. Within 48 hours all allied police agencies including federal, state, county, city, and local came together and formed the SNIPMUR task force. The purpose was to bring all assets of all these agencies together for the sole purpose of identifying the snipers and bringing the killings to an immediate stop. When the Task Force was first formed, it was unclear if we were dealing with a well-organized terrorist plot being carried out under the orders of foreign terrorists or, as it turned out, the desperate and despicable acts of two sociopath bloodthirsty killers carrying out their own twisted mission.

In theory, and on paper, the task force concept was – and, I believe, is – the best way to deal with this type of random crime spree, whether it is the random shootings of a sniper or the mail-bombing cases we have recently seen that cross multi-jurisdictional lines. The concept permits the combining of resources and investigative talent. However, there are pitfalls that must be overcome and can be avoided with proper planning. The SNIPMUR Task Force was unprecedented at the time and there were several problems or potholes we blindly stepped in as we moved forward under pressure, but these can be taken as lessons learned and avoided in the future.

The task force was able to set aside all agency egos and come together and work smoothly and efficiently under a great deal of both internal and external pressure. However, the ability to do that was not hatched the day the sniper case began. The ability to set aside egos began immediately after 9/11. The agencies in the mid-Atlantic region, post-9/11, quickly realized that communication was key to preventing a future attack. Multiple agencies began to meet as a group, where key members of each agency were able to forge relationships with their counterparts and thus build trust and understanding of each agency’s strength and needs. As a result, when the sniper case happened, we all knew each other and could quickly put a face to the voice on the other end of the telephone when calls for assistance and information came flooding in. It is much easier to form a multi-jurisdictional task force when the key members of each agency already know each other, have spent time together professionally, have developed an understanding of the other agency’s capabilities, and have developed friendships with each other. As the pressure and frustrations mount, without those pre-developed relationships the trust can quickly evaporate or never form.

READ: Pro-ISIS How-to Guides Show Lone Wolves Beltway Snipers’ Techniques

The largest lesson learned, in my opinion, is the need to carefully and skillfully manage the media. The media does have a job to do and a responsibility in our free society to get the news out to the public in a truthful manner. However, the task force was plagued with media leaks that caused significant damage to law enforcements efforts to identify, track and corner the snipers. Many times during this investigation, the intelligence unit, which I was responsible for, found out information that was critical to the investigation from the TV. Information such as communications that were meant to be between the killers and the police were being leaked and broadcast to the public (also back to the killers who were obviously listening to their own press coverage) before those responsible for evaluation, and fitting the pieces of the crime together, were aware of them.

This was the first major case that was broadcast over the 24-hour cable news channels that developed post-9/11. It felt during the investigation from those of us on the inside that the case was being investigated on cable news. There were press releases from the Montgomery County Police chief and those in leadership positions within the task force several times a day, which was overkill and unnecessary. I believe the sheer volume of the continuous press conferences was a detriment at times to the investigation.  The press was managing the police as opposed to the police managing the press.

The press, if managed properly, can be a tremendous asset to law enforcement. Ultimately, it was the timely release to the press of the lookout for the blue Caprice that led police to the snipers’ location at the Myersville, Md., rest area. They were found by a listening public within a few minutes of the lookout being broadcast by a local radio station. Once again, this goes back to communication and understanding. There is the responsibility of the police to provide appropriate and timely information to the media. However, there is the mutual responsibility of the press to ethically release information in a manner that does not do damage to the police responsibility to stop killers and bring them to justice. This requires communication and commitment. Recently – and I believe a result of lessons learned through the sniper case – police agencies are doing a much better job of working with the media and managing the media rather than letting the media manage the investigation and the police.

Without the formation of the multi-jurisdictional task force, the Beltway Snipers might never have been caught. Their killing spree may have continued, claiming more victims and adding to the body count, or they may have simply disappeared into the masses. The multi-jurisdictional task force was and remains a powerful tool in law enforcement’s toolbox and should be used as needed. However, that tool cannot lay dormant, and if you will, be assembled from a box kept in the closet at a moment’s notice. The groundwork of interagency cooperation needs to be fostered every day, so that in the event a task force is needed the main pieces are already assembled and in place.

  • I demonstrate how the wire was used to control the trunk opening, and how the rifle was placed while the target was tracked.

 

In Pursuit: The Hunt for the Beltway Snipers by David Reichenbaugh recounts the terrifying crimes through the eyes of one of the few people who know the complete details of the investigation. The book is currently available on Amazon.

  • David Reichenbaugh

  • Latest posts

David Reichenbaugh's passion for law enforcement started at a very early age which led him to seek a degree in criminal justice. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and is a graduate of North Western University Traffic Institute School of Police Staff and Command. David retired after 23 years service with the Maryland State Police as a Lieutenant and Barrack Commander in Cumberland Maryland. David's career started as a road Trooper and continued on as a criminal investigator, undercover narcotics investigator, major violators supervisor, homicide and high profile case investigator, and assisted in the development of the intelligence unit of the MSP post 9/11. He is the author of "In Pursuit: The Hunt for the Beltway Snipers.

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Writing for Homeland Security Today has been a real honor and a privlege. My book In Pursuit the Hunt for the Beltway Snipers is currently available in fine book stores such as Barnes & Noble and local Independent book stores. It is also available on line On Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Indie Bound. It is also currently available on those sites electronically. The motivation for this book was to detail and record for history the true story of how the Beltway Sniper Investigation was conducted and the fine work that was done by law enforcement in an effort to bring the killers to justice.

Author of In Pursuit the Hunt for the Beltway Snipers Part 3 of a 4 part series of articles written for Homeland Security Today

The Inside Story of Snagging the Beltway Snipers: Developing Tools to Sort the Tips

December 14, 2018 David Reichenbaugh

This is Part Three of a four-part series on the 2002 Beltway Snipers killing spree in collaboration with the former criminal intelligence operations commander for the Maryland State Police and commanding officer at the scene during the snipers’ capture in Myersville, Md. Read Part One and Part Two

The Beltway Snipers investigation, which lasted 23 days in October 2002, is believed to be the largest multijurisdictional, multi-agency criminal investigation in American law enforcement history. During the manhunt, shootings occurred in eight local jurisdictions spanning two states and the District of Columbia. There were more than 1,000 federal agents, troopers, deputies, and police officers involved in tracking down the killers. In all, there were 32 federal, state, city, county, and local police agencies involved in the investigation, which ultimately became the SNIPMUR (Sniper Murder Task Force). The logistics alone for trying to manage an ongoing investigation of this size under the pressure of the continuous shooting of innocent citizens going about their daily lives was daunting.

The case began on Oct. 2 during the early evening with a bullet that exploded a window at a Michaels craft store in Aspen Hill, Montgomery County, Md. Less than an hour later, the snipers claimed their first victim at a Shoppers Food Warehouse parking lot in Wheaton. By 9:30 p.m. the following day the snipers had shot five more people: four in Montgomery County and one in the District of Columbia. This many shootings occurring in such a short period of time, which were obviously connected in some way, was extremely troubling and foretold the possibility of some more sinister plot. The victims were being shot with high-speed bullets coming from some sort of rifle fired at a considerable distance. The randomness of the shootings also ruled out motives normally associated with shootings and killings.

Coming a little over a year after the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa., which was followed by the anthrax attacks that were still unsolved and under investigation, this appeared initially to be the work of another terrorist plot to instill fear in the citizens and erode public confidence in the ability of the police and/or the government to protect citizens. The Montgomery County Police Department, which caught the initial cases quickly, asked for help from both federal and state police agencies. Also fearing this was the start of another terrorist attack, the agencies quickly came to the support of the Montgomery County Police Department. The initial response from the federal agencies consisted of lending their forensic capabilities and the response from the Maryland State Police was to flood the area with road troopers to increase police presence and attempt to suppress the snipers’ ability to easily acquire targets.

READ: Pro-ISIS How-to Guides Show Lone Wolves Beltway Snipers’ Techniques

In the coming days, the killings did not stop – they only expanded into additional jurisdictions, thus bringing in more and more law enforcement agencies and resources. To try to organize and coordinate this rapidly expanding investigation, the SNIPMUR Task Force was formed and very quickly organized. This effort required the vast resources of the federal government.   

Due to the randomness of the killings – and the only information that police had to work with was the repeated sighting of a white van or box truck leaving the vicinity of each shooting – law enforcement needed the eyes and ears of citizens in an effort to develop any viable leads that would lead to identifying the killers and putting a stop to this nightmare that had quickly paralyzed the DMV. Tips and information from a panicked and extremely concerned citizenry began to quickly pour in, which created another logistical challenge. Every tip and bit of information had to be cataloged, reviewed, and followed up where appropriate, since we had no way of knowing which tip or bit of information might be the missing pieces that would break the case wide open.

This task alone was going to require human assets, technology, organization, determination, and time – which we did not have. It was going to require thinking outside of the normal investigative thought process to separate useful, valuable, and actionable information from what we used to call noise. Since tips were coming into the Task Force literally by the thousands each day and growing as the days and nights dragged on, the job was assigned to the criminal intelligence section which I was assigned to supervise. Using police officers, agents and civilian intelligence analysts from all these allied agencies, we began the process of turning the tons of information received into an organized investigative effort.

It was obvious immediately that we needed to use technology to assist in what was referred to as link analysis: in short, the ability to connect the dots with the now tens of thousands of tips and bits of information that not only was received from the public but was also generated by the intelligence section trying to find the electronic footprint or bread crumbs left behind by the yet-to-be-identified killers. Existing software was not able to perform what we needed it to do. 

During the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the FBI utilized a program called Rapid Start. It was a great program that was a way to catalog and organize all the calls and tips that came into law enforcement. However, it did not have the means to conduct link analysis and look for the common thread. For that, we utilized and radically modified a drug enforcement software program called Case Explorer. It had the ability to conduct link analysis but lacked the diversity to accept the data from RapidStart and to read other data sets coming in from allied agencies and other law enforcement databases and civilian databases that we were searching, looking for the electronic footprint. Under the extreme pressure of the continuous shootings and the need to get the data immediately, some extremely talented programmers were able to help the Task Force write code to make Case Explorer fit our needs. 

Their work under extreme pressure ultimately paid off and greatly assisted in identifying the snipers. Using the link analysis concept, the Intelligence unit was able to classify the value of the thousands of tips using a simple color code of green, yellow and red. Green information was low-priority. It was information that did not match any other tips or known information. Yellow was information such as two or more tips about the same person or persons with maybe another factor thrown in, such as a criminal record for violence. Red information was hot with multiple links: known violent felon, owned a white-panel truck, maybe a known owner or known to use a .223 caliber rifle. The more data that matched, the higher priority was given to the tip. Red was worked on immediately. A full rapid background check was completed for the person and the red packet was given to field agents to run down as soon as possible.

The SNIPMUR Task Force came together with multiple agencies and a lot of working parts. The level of cooperation and teamwork was incredible under the crisis of the sniper case, and the task force was turned into a functional working group within a week of the initial shootings. The success of the task force was unprecedented and speaks to the level of professionalism of all 1,000 cops working the case.

  • Sarah Ramos crime scene. Her shooting was initially reported to the police as a suicide. It did not take long for Montgomery County Police to realize that something major and very violent was happening in their community.

In Pursuit: The Hunt for the Beltway Snipers by David Reichenbaugh recounts the terrifying crimes through the eyes of one of the few people who know the complete details of the investigation. The book is currently available on Amazon.

  • David Reichenbaugh

  • Latest posts

David Reichenbaugh's passion for law enforcement started at a very early age which led him to seek a degree in criminal justice. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and is a graduate of North Western University Traffic Institute School of Police Staff and Command. David retired after 23 years service with the Maryland State Police as a Lieutenant and Barrack Commander in Cumberland Maryland. David's career started as a road Trooper and continued on as a criminal investigator, undercover narcotics investigator, major violators supervisor, homicide and high profile case investigator, and assisted in the development of the intelligence unit of the MSP post 9/11. He is the author of "In Pursuit: The Hunt for the Beltway Snipers."

Dave's Head Shots, Hypnotic Imagery, LLC, Rebecca O'Neill, www.hypnoticimagery.com-5.jpg

I will be posting my 2019 scheduled book events in the coming weeks. In Pursuit the Hunt for the Beltway Snipers is currently available in book stores and also on line. This is the true story of how the beltway snipers were brought to justice as told by the Trooper and his team that locked them up and ended their reign of terror.

Eileen Haavik Mcintire Critically acclaimed author Reviews In Pursuit the Hunt for the Beltway Snipers

Last Month I had the pleasure of attending a book event at the Mechanicsburg Mystery Book Shop With Author Eileen McIntire and two other great authors. During the panel discussion we discussed our latest books. Ms. Mcintire who is an acomplished and successful author (see her books and book series below advised that she writes book reviews for latelastnightbooks.com. After reading In Pursuit the Hunt for the Beltway Snipers she has written a glowing review of my new book and it is posted and can be found on latelastnightbooks.com.

This old State Trooper is humbled to get such a great review from this well known author.

EILEEN HAAVIK MCINTIRE

Author of Shadow and the Rock, The 90s Club and the Hidden Staircase, and The 90s Club and the Whispering Statue

17 NOVEMBER 2018 In Pursuit – The Hunt for the Beltway Snipers

If you lived in the D.C. Metro Area in October, 2002,  you remember the terror you felt as the Beltway Snipers killed people randomly on the street, in a store, filling gas, loading groceries into a car—17 killed  in all with 10 wounded. I was afraid, as we all were, to walk from my car to my house or anywhere else. If you were at the gas pump, you stooped to hide behind your car. You ran zigzaggedly into a store, kept your kids home from school, and prayed you wouldn’t be the next victim.

So this month I had the pleasure of being a panelist at the Mechanicsburg, PA, Mystery Book Shop. I sat next to David Reichenbaugh, also a panelist and author of In Pursuit: The Hunt for the Beltway Snipers. Dave served as the criminal intelligence operations commander for the Maryland State Police and as the commanding officer at the scene during the Beltway snipers’ capture in Myersville, MD. I found him an enthusiastic, pleasant, entertaining, and knowledgeable fellow panelist. He didn’t talk “copspeak” and he never once called me “ma’am.” Of course, I bought his book.

And what a read it is. I couldn’t put it down till the last page. This is a behind the scenes, first-person account, from day one to the capture and ultimate fate of two psychopaths, written by a man who was a leader in the local, multistate and FBI search across three states for the killers. The account conveys the frustrations, anger, and helplessness felt by the police officers with each murder. Everyone involved worked long hours, sometimes around the clock, in a race to prevent another killing.

The investigation involved organizing and coordinating the efforts of local police units, the state police, and the FBI despite territorial claims and ego interference The investigators had to deal with the media, too, scrambling after every scrap of information, insisting on more, giving the killers media attention, and offering media time to any self-proclaimed authority to second-guess what the investigators were doing.

As killing after killing occurred, the investigators realized they needed software that linked the various databases kept by the different departments. Computer programmers were hired to streamline and digitize the data collected.

Profilers were used who concluded that the killer was a white man working alone. The killers turned out to be a black man and a black teenager working together. After each killing, witnesses said they saw a white van with two men drive away.  The killers’ car was actually a blue Caprice, but the witnesses’ reports of a white van put investigators on the wrong track for weeks.

The author writes in a straightforward, highly readable style, and he doesn’t use “copspeak.” He expresses the rage and fear and frustration he felt as the investigators explored one blind alley after the next. He does give full credit to the other organizations and people involved in the investigation. I found his account fascinating and highly recommend In Pursuit – The Hunt for the Beltway Snipers by David Reichenbaugh.

I also recommend the Mechanicsburg Mystery Book Shop in Mechanicsburg, PA. This is a well-organized, neatly arranged shop with pleasant staff.

 

 

Eileen McIntire

Eileen has ridden a camel in the Moroccan Sahara, fished for piranhas on the Amazon, sailed in a felucca on the Nile, and lived for three years on a motorsailer, exploring the coast from Annapolis to Key West.  Eileen has many years experience writing, editing and designing all manner of publications for nonprofits and professional associations. She is now co-owner of Summit Crossroads Press, which publishes books for parents, and its fiction imprint, Amanita Books.  The inspiration for her 90s Club mystery series springs from meeting a slim, attractive woman at a pool party who was the only one actually in the pool swimming laps, and she was 91 years old. Since then, Eileen has collected articles about people in their 90s—and 100s—who are still active, alert and on the job. She often speaks at retirement villages on “Old Dogs, New

Dave's Head Shots, Hypnotic Imagery, LLC, Rebecca O'Neill, www.hypnoticimagery.com-5.jpg

Also don’t forget and mark your calendar on December 8th at Noon I will be at Turn The Page in Boonsboro Maryland with the great Nora Roberts for a book signing. This will be a great and exciting event. Stop by and share this event with me and get a signed book from not only me but the great Nora Roberts