After I-270 closure, a question over tactics

WASHINGTON — It made for a dramatic scene on Tuesday morning: The police shut down Interstate 270 as part of the search for three men they say robbed a King Farm Boulevard bank.

After about a half-hour of going car-to-car, police found and arrested three suspects. But were their tactics the best way to handle the situation?

Montgomery County Council President Craig Rice says he’s seen emails from people complaining that the sight of officers walking down I-270 with guns drawn, telling people to get back in their cars without explaining why, created confusion.

One woman was reportedly shouted at by police with weapons drawn after she’d opened her car door to throw up, having gotten carsick from sitting in traffic for so long.

“I have to look at the public-safety aspects of this as well,” Rice says. “Multiple suspects were armed, and [police] were trying to do their best to make sure that these dangerous criminals were taken off the street as quickly as possible.”

Rice adds that a hostage situation, with the alleged robbers carjacking a motorist, could easily have developed.

Montgomery County police spokeswoman Officer Janelle Smith wouldn’t say why the road was closed and the car-to-car search performed, only saying that “investigative measures helped police track the robbers’ movements.”

But police Chief Tom Manger defended the tactics used to arrest the men.

“Our community is certainly a much safer place with those guys behind bars,” Manger says.

Despite the arrest, he’s received angry emails about how police caught the robbery suspects.

“For those folks that wondered how is that the police can just walk through traffic like that and get folks to show their hands, get folks to pop their trunks, between the exigency of the circumstances and the information that we had, it gave us the legal foundation to do what we did.”

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WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter and WTOP on Facebook.

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