Firefighter groups said yesterday they don’t want a repeat of a Newport incident where police disguised themselves as firefighters to make an arrest.
Portsmouth Fire Chief Christopher LeClaire said it’s important that firefighters always be seen as rescuers, not as threats or adversaries.
“Not to Monday-morning quarterback,” he said, “but when the line gets blurred, it creates a very dangerous situation for us.” Police used a fire truck and firemen’s outfits Tuesday night to trick Matthew Miller, 34, into leaving his apartment on Sunapee Street so they could arrest him.
The incident began when Miller allegedly pointed a shotgun at the chest of a lone police officer who responded to a noise complaint. The officer left, and planning to arrest Miller began.
Police say Miller is a convicted felon and has a history of violent behavior. He was in the apartment with a 1-year-old and a woman, and police said they recovered several weapons at the scene.
“Police officers dressed as firefighters and using a fire truck entered the building and activated the fire alarm to evacuate residents in a safe manner so as not to bring attention to the pending arrest of Miller,” Newport Police Chief David Hoyt said in a news release issued Wednesday.
Hoyt and Fire Chief Wayne Conroy said they agreed on use of fire gear, but members of three firefighting groups criticized the action.
They said use of their gear to make arrests puts all firefighters in jeopardy when they respond to fires and rescue situations. They have asked Attorney General Kelly Ayotte and Commissioner of Safety John Barthelmes to convene a meeting to set clear guidelines for the future.
David Lang, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire, was most critical.
“The use of the firefighter and paramedic image in this way is inappropriate, should not be condoned and is not negotiable,” he said.
Hoyt defended his decision. Given circumstances, he said, he faced the possibility of a police officer or innocent bystanders being shot or killed. He said Miller was still in jail in lieu of bail yesterday.
LeClaire, who is president of the Seacoast Chief Fire Officers Association, said he understands the spot Hoyt was in. But he said there is a rising number of incidents nationwide in which firefighters have been shot when responding to emergencies.
The group also criticized police for pulling a fire alarm to clear the apartment building, but it’s not clear an alarm was actually pulled.
Conroy said no alarm was pulled that night, contradicting a statement in the police news release.
Chris Christopoulos, president of the New Hampshire Association of Fire Chiefs, said false alarms can “create an attitude among the public that fire alarms are false alarms, and not evacuate a building.”
Conroy said he and Hoyt spent an hour discussing how to handle the situation. He said he, a fire captain and four officers arrived in a fire department car and truck. They went directly to the apartment in question, on the pretext of investigating the smell of gas fumes. He estimated it took 90 seconds from their arrival to the arrest.
“I think the whole thing has been blown out of proportion,” Conroy said. “I wish people would make sure they know the whole situation before making a mountain out something small.”
Ayotte said she plans to bring the parties together soon.
“It’s important that we get a common understanding as to what is appropriate,” she said. “We should remember that police and firefighters are all focused on protecting people and saving lives.”
Maj. Robert Stafford, assistant director of the Police Standards and Training council, said his agency provides basic training to police, and it is up to individual departments to provide training on responses to situations like the Newport incident.
Barthelmes said he thinks it’s important for all sides to meet and to clear the air.
“Certainly there are ruses that are used and are valuable,” he said. “In this case, it certainly worked with a positive outcome. The discussion has to be about whether that’s something that should be embraced in future.”
Guy Newberry, a battalion chief with the Concord Fire Department, said firefighters across the state are smarting about the Newport incident. Firefighters, he said, are in and out of houses, and there has to be an atmosphere of trust between the homeowner and rescue workers.
“We’re not armed; we’re no threat to them,” he said.
He said firefighters report any evidence of child abuse they see, but “we’ll sometimes turn a blind eye” toward evidence of drug crimes.
Sheriff John Rutherford said Thursday he cannot legally discuss two highly publicized wrecks involving police cruiser in the past two months — one of which killed an 86-year-old man.
Rutherford did discuss his department’s procedures that allow cruisers to violate traffic rules while making traffic stops and use laptops while driving.
Matthew Ogden Jr. died Jan. 14 when he pulled his pickup truck onto Merrill Road in front of a police cruiser that Florida Highway Patrol investigators said was going 98 mph.
Officer Marcus Kilpatrick was trying to catch up with a car suspected of having windows tinted darker than law allows.
Investigators are evaluating conflicting reports about whether Kilpatrick had the cruiser’s lights and siren on at the time of the crash, but the FHP said there is no dispute about the speed or the reason.
Kilpatrick has been removed from duty pending the outcome of the investigation.
Rutherford said he removed Kilpatrick from duty when he learned he was driving at a high rate of speed and the case will be reviewed by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office internal affairs office when the criminal investigation by the FHP and the State Attorney’s Office is complete.
“Let me express my condolences to the family of Mr. Mathew Ogden,” Rutherford said during a news conference on Thursday.
Rutherford answered questions for the first time about the incident, but refused to talk about whether Kilpatrick violated any departmental policies or state laws.
“There are times police officers are allowed to operate outside of traffic laws,” Rutherford said. “Our policies require … that they properly utilize emergency equipment, taking into consideration due regard for life and property.”
A second recent wreck of a cruiser occurred on Monday when Officer Amanda Meyer crashed into the back of a tractor-trailer that had just stopped at a railroad crossing on Zoo Parkway on the Northside.
The officer suffered a minor injury to her arm. The truck driver was not hurt.
The FHP said Meyer glanced down at her dashboard-mounted laptop moments before impact.
“Our policy speaks to the need for officers to operate their vehicles safely, but does not specifically address the laptop,” Rutherford said.
He said that the laptop is integral to officers effectively doing their jobs, but that policy will be reviewed as part of the administrative review once the FHP investigation is complete.
The Los Angeles Police Department is bigger than ever, but so far it appears a recent hiring surge has not translated into more officers on the streets, police Chief William Bratton said Thursday.The department has added about 700 officers since Bratton became chief in 2002—an expansion negated by the hundreds of officers filling clerical civilian positions that remain empty due to a civilian hiring freeze for all but essential civilian positions.
The net gain in patrol officers is “probably none at the moment,” Bratton told The Associated Press.
Bratton said the phenomenon of filling civilian positions with officers is mirrored in other departments across the country. But he appears willing to change the trend, saying he is compiling a survey to see how many officers who are filling civilian positions could be returned to the field.
The police officers’ union supports such a plan.
“What the public was told and sold on was they were going to get more officers on the streets,” said Paul M. Weber, president of the Police Protective League, the Los Angeles police officers’ union. “That’s not happening.”
The new officers have been funded by an increase in trash collection fees, and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has said the money would be used to put more officers on the streets.
Bratton and Villaraigosa announced on Monday historic levels of policing in the city—close to 10,000 officers—though the chief said his department remains one of the most understaffed police forces in the country.Bratton credits his officers for the city’s seven straight years of declining crime rate, though some city officials remain critical of how the chief is using his expanded force.
Last March, City Controller Laura Chick pointed out that too many officers were getting stuck in desk jobs and should be shifted to patrolling the streets. Other officers, including detectives and watch commanders, have been placed in two new stations and others are bolstering Bratton’s counterterrorism units, the robbery homicide division and the police academy.
Bratton said he expects more patrol officers to start working the streets toward the end of next year, as new recruits complete their training and probationary periods.
He also hopes to hire hundreds of extra officers through federal economic stimulus funds and said hiring civilians into his department’s clerical positions would potentially free up hundreds of officers.
Villaraigosa spokesman Matt Szabo said the mayor was delivering on his promise of more officers.
“The bottom line is the extra officers have given the chief the flexibility to attack crime hot spots immediately and that has clearly paid off,” Szabo said.
Carrying a loaded handgun, Sean Cobban lurked in a dusty room on the second floor of an abandoned hospital wing as the two women he held at gunpoint screamed for help.
Pops of gunfire echoed in the hallway and hostages crawled along a floor littered with spent casings toward their rescuers.
As SWAT teams from Hollywood and Hallandale Beach inched forward behind large shields, a man jumped out at them, firing off at least six rounds before an on-target shot dropped him to the floor.
Then, with all but one room cleared, police stormed toward Cobban and took him down with a shot to the side of his shaved head.
As officers began to take off their masks and leave the room, Cobban smiled at his ”hostages” and touched the bloody welt on his head made by a glorified paint ball.
”We need to get you a better helmet,” an instructor told him.
On a normal day, Cobban is a Margate police officer. But he played the role of hostage taker Thursday morning during a mock rescue exercise staged to train SWAT team members from around South Florida.
The exercise was just one of a half-dozen staged Thursday at the South Florida State Hospital in Pembroke Pines, where about 200 SWAT team members from 13 agencies gathered to train together.
The idea behind the event, the fifth in as many years, is to familiarize SWAT teams with each other to improve communications when a crisis becomes too large for one department to handle, said Lt. Greg Lees, one of the Broward Sheriff’s Office SWAT commanders.
Lees said the multiagency training day was proposed after the Columbine High School massacre of 1999, which prompted a group of Broward County SWAT commanders to gather and discuss how to better coordinate efforts.
As SWAT members from Hallandale and Hollywood rescued hostages on the second floor, Plantation officers prepared to storm a bus where a man and woman held several captives of their own.
Back inside on the first floor, a team of five Davie officers carrying rifles and handguns modified to shoot nonlethal, paint-filled ammo waited to storm a dark, winding hallway where at least one shooter waited.
Three deafening booms went off inside, and they ran into the building past hostages wearing vests. At a sprint, they turned right and then left as two men turned to fire back at them.
”What do you got?” an officer called out after the chase.
”One in custody,” someone answered.
”Two bodies,” another yelled.
Outside, an instructor from Hollywood told the officers, adrenaline still pumping, that they did a good job — unlike other teams, they spared all the civilian hostages.
Officer Bruce Paquet, a 12-year veteran of the Davie SWAT team, said the training was realistic.
”That’s about as close as you are going to get to the real thing,” said Paquet, 37.
In fact, training is no walk in the park.
Lees, the BSO SWAT commander, said statistics show that training can be more dangerous than real life situations.
”More SWAT guys are killed by SWAT guys than by bad guys,” he told the officers before the day’s exercises began, urging them to be careful.
No one was injured during Thursday’s events.
Lees said there have been a few situations in which the multiagency trainings have already helped, like during a spate of police shootings during 2007.
”When it’s a real game day, when we have an event that is a large scale scenario, I now know exactly who to speak to,” he said.
I think this is a great outcome, but there needs to be more uniform laws on this sort of stuff. People get less time for stabbing a human officer.
The man who stabbed a police dog last year was sentenced to 12 years in prison on Wednesday.Jerry Davis pleaded guilty during a hearing in Greenville on Wednesday.Deputies said Davis stole a woman’s purse at a local grocery store and then hit the woman with his car during his getaway.Deputies said that three days after the robbery, they found Davis napping in a car in Taylors. They said when officers tried to wake Davis up, he poured gasoline on himself and threatened officers with a knife.
Investigators said when Davis tried to run away, deputies released a police dog to stop him. They said that was when Davis stabbed the dog. Deputies then shot Davis.
The K-9, named Kroc, recovered from his injuries at a local veterinary hospital.During, Wednesday’s hearing, Davis blamed his actions on a drug problem.The judge said Davis must serve all 12 years before he is eligible for probation.
A Daytona Beach policeman and member of the agency’s SWAT team shot himself in the leg as he practiced at a gun range in Flagler County, police said.
Ladislas Szabo was reholstering his gun when it accidentally went off and he shot himself in the right knee, said Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood and the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office. The bullet from Szabo’s .45-caliber Kimber handgun traveled down his leg and lodged itself in the 42-year-old officer’s foot.
Szabo has been a member of the tactical unit for the past two years, the chief said.
The shooting occurred at the Flagler Gun & Archery Club in Bunnell on Feb. 21 and Chitwood believes Szabo was practicing. The officer participates in shooting competitions and the gun he was using that day was one of his personal weapons.
The holster Szabo was using is also the type used in competitions, Chitwood said.
“He’s embarrassed about what happened,” Chitwood said. “He is a member of SWAT and he’s a competitive shooter. He trains for this kind of shooting.”
Szabo was taken to Florida Hospital Flagler by the county’s fire rescue. He has not returned to work because he’s still “convalescing,” Chitwood said.
According to the Flagler sheriff’s report, two people who were watching Szabo shoot told deputies who responded to the scene they were impressed with the officer’s tactical skills.
Szabo could not be reached for comment Thursday.
But the chief said Szabo is simply a good guy who had an accident: “Even the most expert people can have an accident.”
Dewey can’t wait to be out on the streets again and he owes it all to the very people he helps put behind bars — drug dealers and users.
With nearly $18,000 in drug forfeiture funds, Argentine Township police will be able to cover training and other costs for its first K-9 dog.
“The problem we are seeing out here is marijuana first and foremost,” Police Chief Daniel Allen said.
“In the evenings and on the weekend, one out of six stops have marijuana in the car, if not more.”
Dewey is trained to detect narcotics and can be a big help in getting pot and other drugs off the street.
And he’s just itching to get back to work.
The 7-year-old German shepherd, — who previously worked with the Linden, Mt. Morris and Byron police departments — hasn’t been on the job for about six months and is getting a bit stir crazy.
“He’s ready to come back,” said Argentine Township Officer Doug Fulton, who owns Dewey. “He’s been driving me nuts. Every day he gets wound up when I Ieave to go to work.”
Dewey spent his first 2 1/2 years learning the ropes in Hungary before arriving in America. He comes to Argentine Township with an impressive service record.
He found 11 pounds of marijuana inside the trunk of a vehicle in Mt. Morris Township and tracked down the suspect, who was hiding inside an abandoned vehicle behind a house.
He also tracked an Alzheimer’s patient who walked out of a Mundy Township house in 30-degree weather.
“He’s a superstar in tracking,” said Fulton, who has been with Dewey since 2004.
Fulton’s four-legged partner knows the job comes with risks. In 2005 Dewey suffered bruised ribs and lacerations after he was kicked repeatedly by a drunken driver who fled police.
Dewey is expected to join Argentine’s police force in April, at a time when more populated and more crime-plagued communities have cut back on dogs. There’s only about a half dozen police dogs in Genesee County, with the closest K-9 in Grand Blanc Township.
Police chiefs who said goodbye to the dogs have stated the program was too expensive or they couldn’t afford to give their full-time officers days off for training.
Argentine Township, though, doesn’t have those same worries because Dewey’s cost will be covered through drug forfeiture funds, not the general budget. Fulton, who works part-time, will continue to be paid out of the police department’s budget, Allen said.
Some start-up costs include about $350 to get Dewey recertified, $500 for insurance and $4,000 to equip a police vehicle with a kennel, Fulton said.
If all goes well, the department could see another K-9 help patrol the streets.
Another part-time officer works full-time with his dog at the Perry Police Department.
Allen said he would like to work out an agreement for the dog to assist in Argentine Township as well.
Township Board Trustee Tom Hallman said having Dewey on the force will be an asset to the community.
“Unfortunately, when the economy is in the shape it’s in, drug abuse goes up higher and … (Dewey) will be a deterrent,” he said.