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Columns : The Federal Voice

Time to Disarm Police Critics

A recent incident in New York City demonstrates how ignorant police critics can be of your tactics and training.

December 07, 2016  |  by Jon Adler

You're damned if you use a TASER, and damned if you don't. That seems to sum up the collective wisdom of bureaucrats who lambast law enforcement's use of force.

A glaring example of this occurred recently in New York City. On Oct. 18, NYPD officers responded to a call regarding an emotionally disturbed subject. After entering the subject's apartment, Sgt. Hugh Barry and other officers were confronted by 66-year-old Deborah Danner. Police say Sgt. Barry was engaging Danner at the entrance of her bedroom while she was holding a pair of scissors in a threatening manner. Barry was able to convince her to drop the scissors, but Danner suddenly grabbed a baseball bat and attempted to strike him. Barry drew his service weapon and fired twice, killing Danner.

Within 24 hours of this incident, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared at a news conference, "The shooting death of Deborah Danner is tragic and unacceptable. It should never have happened. It's as simple as that." He added, "Our Officers are supposed to use deadly force when faced with a dire situation." Mayor de Blasio and other police officials went on to condemn Sgt. Barry for not deploying his TASER.

In his assessment of this incident, the only thing de Blasio got right is that Danner's death was tragic. When an emotionally disturbed person, regardless of gender, attacks an officer with a bat, it's "a dire situation."

While trampling on Sgt. Barry's reputation, de Blasio demonstrated a failed grasp of NYPD training and tactics. First, he failed to recognize a baseball bat as a potentially lethal weapon. He also failed to recognize that the behavior of someone suffering from severe mental illness can change without cue or warning. He failed to grasp that when an officer is confronted with a potentially lethal threat in close quarters, a TASER is not an option. The mayor also failed to mention that Barry was the only officer on scene who was issued a TASER. That's a failure the mayor owns.

Barry engaged Danner as the contact officer. The other officers on scene were in effect his cover. Apparently, only NYPD patrol sergeants have been issued TASERs, so the other officers on scene didn't have them. Basic tactical training teaches that it is not the contact officer's responsibility to deploy a less-lethal weapon, especially in close quarters. Because de Blasio has been unwilling or incapable of issuing TASERs to all patrol officers, he has unwittingly increased the likelihood of shooting incidents. He owns this outcome; not Sgt. Barry, who was justified in defending himself from a potentially lethal attack. 

Adding to Mayor De Blasio's failures, he apparently was unaware or indifferent to what recruits are taught in the police academy. NYPD Sergeants Benevolent Association President Ed Mullins revealed the following academy test question in his Oct. 22 release: With a baseball bat in his hands, an emotionally disturbed man charges at a police officer and threatens to break his nose. The officer is backed against a wall. Based on the Department's guidelines on the use of force and deadly physical force…(select the correct answer):

  1. Because the broken nose is not a serious physical injury, the officer may not shoot.
  2. Because the suspect is threatening imminent deadly physical force, the officer may shoot.
  3. The officer must first utilize his baton or pepper spray before shooting.
  4. Department guidelines prohibit officers from shooting at emotionally disturbed persons.

The correct answer is B, the officer may shoot. As Mullins stated, "By making such a blanket statement so early on in an investigation, Commissioner [James] O'Neill (and the Mayor) was, in essence, denying due process by supplanting public opinion and putting an expectation of results in the minds of the people who will ultimately investigate the case."

Commissioner O'Neill had stated, in part, "Our first obligation is to preserve life, not to take a life when it can be avoided." Perhaps the Commissioner should consider that that obligation also applies to preserving Sgt. Barry's life.

Ironically, another NYPD sergeant was forced to deploy his TASER at a later incident in order to control a violent subject. That subject ultimately went into cardiac arrest and died. As expected, the news media headlines were inflammatory, even though the sergeant's actions were appropriate. The TASER is the best less-than-lethal option for any officer to draw upon in dealing with volatile subjects, but unfortunately it can't be used to disarm unwarranted critic ignorance.

Comments (6)

Displaying 1 - 6 of 6

LEO (RET) @ 12/17/2016 4:21 PM

I'm really so sick and tired of these liberal city administrators like Da Blow Hard and his personal hand puppet O'Neil, (who probably sounds like a wind tunnel every time he farts), of throwing good officers under the bus before the investigation even begins. To all LE: Do whatever you have been trained to do to stay safe and stay alive. Merry CHRISTmas to all LE, and God bless you for what you do, and for having to put up with ignorant people that think they know it all about Police self defense tactics and deadly force, and are legends in their own minuscule minds. Don't ever let these special kind of idiots destroy your morale.

otj25yrs @ 12/20/2016 7:16 AM

This is by no means a singular occurrence and is an issue that departments nationwide are hampered by oversight of police professionals by administrations and civilian oversight boards who have no perspective of police training, policy and practices. They are quick to try and put a positive spin in their favor of any incident which is questioned by the media regardless of the facts.

Mary @ 12/24/2016 7:04 AM

With over 20 yrs as a police DT trainer, my only comment is: Sgt. Barry went home to his loved ones at the end of his shift.
May the Christmas season calm his soul and put any doubts to rest.
Stay safe out there, everyone.

Rede2hike @ 12/24/2016 8:21 AM

As a 27 year vet officer, we are damned if we do and damned if we dont. Everyone who asks me about being a cop I tell em that if they want to serve, join the military or fire department, do not become a cop.

AZBIGDOG @ 12/25/2016 10:42 AM

Sgt. Hugh Barry did his best when confronted with an irrational and dangerous person. Hampered by the failure of his agency and his supervisors he was forced to choose between his own possible severe injury or death or the use of deadly force. In my opinion he made the best choice. I am sorry for the loss of a loved one by anyone, but with the choices forced on him by his superiors and the family of the deranged person for failing to obtain the help needed earlier, he is not the person responsible for this death.

gary wilson @ 12/31/2016 8:15 AM

Actually, nothing has really changed in the last 40+ years.
The pendulum just swings a little back and forth.
We are back to the late 60s-early 70s only with new toys to play with.

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