The Hippo


May 25, 2020








Take shelter
Shelter in place protocols

By Ryan Lessard

 After a man wearing a trench coat shot and wounded two Manchester police officers, police quickly mobilized to create a perimeter around the neighborhood he was last seen in. The shootings took place around 2 a.m. and 2:30 a.m., according to a press release from the Attorney General’s office. And the man who was ultimately charged with the crime, Ian MacPherson, was in police custody by about 5 a.m. 

But it wasn’t until half an hour later that Manchester police issued a “shelter in place” order for the area around Wayne, Putnam and Rimmon streets, advising the public in that part of the city to remain indoors. The reason given was “heavy police activity,” in an email from police notifying the public at the time. An email sent a few minutes earlier announced that, due to a “fluid and ongoing situation,” West Side schools would be closed for the day.
The shelter in place order was lifted five hours later, about 10:20 a.m.
So, with the imminent danger behind them, why did police issue the order, and why did it last so long?
UNH Law Professor Buzz Scherr says police considering a shelter in place order usually look at factors such as the imminence of a threat, the nature of the harm already inflicted and the ability to home in on a discrete geographic region. But ultimately, they don’t need to.
“The reality is there needs to be no set of conditions. Because it’s a request and not an order, police can say it whenever they want to,” Scherr said.
In the case of the shootings in Manchester, Lt. Brian O’Keefe said he can’t discuss the specifics of the ongoing investigation but suggested the possibility that police needed time to confirm they arrested the right man. He said the public often forgets that investigations are not resolved as quickly and neatly as they may seem to be on television.  
In other words, only with the benefit of hindsight do we know that the shelter in place order was perhaps unnecessary. At the time, police could have believed a shooter at-large was still a possibility.
Nashua Police Chief Andrew Lavoie says his department would likely have made the same call had that situation happened in Nashua.
“We would use a shelter in place more like Manchester did, where there was a shooting in a neighborhood, so the last thing they want is hundreds of hundreds of kids spilling out in a dangerous area,” Lavoie said.
He says an officer in charge can make the call, since a chief is not always available, and while Nashua has mostly used it for schools and, most recently, the Boys & Girls Club, that doesn’t mean they can’t use it for residents in their homes as well.
“There’s nothing that requires you to do it a certain way,” Lavoie said.
Lt. Timothy O’Malley in the Concord Police Department agrees.
“It’s not something that is standardized,” O’Malley said. “It’s really case-by-case specific.”
O’Malley said the goal of the order is to isolate a dangerous suspect and at the same time protect the public in areas that are too dense and there’s no safe way to evacuate. Or, O’Malley said, if an armed suspect stands off with police in a rural home, police may ask the neighbors to temporarily leave their homes for their own safety.
Still, calling for a shelter in place is a request and not an order.
“We’d certainly hope [the public would] take our advice ... but it is just that. It’s called an order, but certainly you have a right to do what you want,” Lavoie said. “We’re not doing it just for the heck of it. It’s a weighty decision that’s being made that certainly has a lot of ramifications. People may miss work and things like that so it’s not something we take lightly.” 

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