Sunday, April 29, 2007

Last Word on Arkville Standoff

New York State Police investigators survey damage to a farmhouse in Arkville, N.Y., Thursday, April 26, 2007. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Fred LeBrun, Albany Times-Union: Death penalty clamor is red herring for State Police mistakes

After last week's tragic shooting death of a state trooper, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno asked the right question:

"What is more important than protecting the lives of law enforcement officers?"

Then he proceeded to hammer home the wrong answer. In a shameless bit of opportunism, he thundered about the need for a death penalty bill as a response.


In light of what we know now, did our state troopers in harm's way get the protection they deserved from their own police agency? Who gave the command to storm a house where the subject of the manhunt was known to be hiding?

Could better State Police procedures have saved David Brinkerhoff's life?

These are the question the senator and others should be thundering about at the moment. Bruno should be holding hearings on the State Police, not advocating for the death penalty. This is the second time within a year that State Police procedures deserve to be questioned and examined in a very critical and public way. The "Bucky" Phillips debacle in western New York last summer also cost a trooper his life, and wounded another. What did the State Police learn from that in terms of protecting their own? Arguably, not enough.

Maj. Kevin G. Molinari, commander of Troop C in Sydney, told the Times Union Thursday that the operation that took the lives of Brinkerhoff and Travis Trim, the subject of the manhunt, "was well-planned, well-thought-out and well-executed."

I'll bet that's a smug statement Molinari wishes he had never uttered.

A State Police K-9 unit had determined there was a high probability Trim was hiding inside a house owned by a New Jersey cop, who used it as a hunting base. Trim was inside, they were outside. There was no surprise involved from either side.

Everybody present knew that Trim already had fired point blank at another trooper.
Trim was probably well hidden, in a good defensive position watching it all, and well armed.


What remained completely unanswered, however, after Felton's otherwise revealing press conference, was whether the house needed to be assaulted at all. Given the circumstances, the inclination, resources and positioning of the shooter, any police storming the house had a high probability of drawing fire. Was that necessary, considering that the house was surrounded, dozens if not hundreds of law enforcement were on the scene, and there was no deadline or hostages involved?

During the press conference, Felton emphasized how well trained the men were who stormed the house, and how they "followed established procedures."

What he didn't answer is whether those procedures were worth a damn and will be critically reviewed. Make no mistake, this is another black mark on the State Police, and they are adding up.

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