The Unfolding Boston Marathon Manhunt

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Darren McCollester / Getty Images

Police seal off Arsenal Street in Watertown.

The police and FBI have a single goal in the manhunt now unfolding in Boston: toss a law-enforcement lasso around the suspect, then slowly tighten it into a noose.

Manhunts in the U.S. date back to sheriffs’ posses rounding up outlaws. Modern technology got involved in 1950, when the FBI began posting its 10 most-wanted lists in post offices around the country. Friday’s unfolding massive police manhunt for Boston Marathon bomber suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, while aided by video, facial-recognition software and other elements of 21st century technology, has the same goal: pinpointing a dangerous suspect’s location and capturing, or killing, him – it’s invariably a him – before he can do any more harm.

The guidelines law enforcement uses in launching a manhunt are pretty simple.

The first two rules are self-evident: the suspect’s identity must be known, and his location must be suspected. The FBI announced Tsarnaev’s name early Friday – fingering their man – and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick shut down Boston’s mass-transit system to make it tougher for him to escape.

The public has already been enlisted in the cause via television, radio, tweets and other means. Police have ordered everyone along Arsenal Street in Watertown to stay in their houses and away from windows – preferably in their basements. Citywide, Bostonians are sheltering in place.

Tactically, the operations going on in Watertown have some similarities to raids that took place in Baghdad during the Iraq war, but they have differences too. The purpose of this mission is to apprehend the suspect, and the SWAT teams will make every effort to take him alive. Further, they’re operating in a large area just outside Boston — not just one or two city blocks but an area of about 4 sq. mi., home to nearly 32,000 people, according to the 2010 Census.

The mammoth cordon around Watertown and security positions in greater Boston are being manned by Boston police, Massachusetts state police, National Guard troops and officers from other law-enforcement agencies who have been enlisted in the effort. They will be establishing checkpoints at every major intersection and covering as much ground as they can throughout Boston until the crisis is over.

SWAT officers are going house to house in small teams, knocking on each door and asking residents if they have seen the suspect. Witnesses speaking to various news outlets have said that officers aren’t necessarily entering and searching every house.

“The SWAT team knocked on every door,” Watertown resident and Boston Globe food editor Sheryl Julian told her newspaper. “They came in, but they didn’t go through the house. We told them we had been through the basement. They went through the garage, in every bush, the whole team, rifles poised, through every single inch of this neighborhood — and every single inch of our house outside.”

The goal: to freeze the search area and try to flush out Tsarnaev by forcing him to flee or fire a weapon.

To do that, hundreds of heavily armed and armored cops are focusing on specific blocks of houses and businesses within the search zone. They’re cordoning them off and going through each building, guns drawn, seeking evidence of the 19-year-old Tsarnaev.

As homes and businesses are scratched off the search list, a police presence will have to be maintained to ensure that Tsarnaev can’t take refuge in a cleared building.

Over time, the inner cordon of unsearched dwellings will shrink. If their man is there, the police ultimately will get him, dead or alive.

— With reporting by Nate Rawlings / New York

(MORE: How Boston’s School Websites are Reacting to the Manhunt)