A police reporter’s perspective

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I haven’t been able to stop thinking about my friends lately — and with good reason. Most of them are cops.

I’ve known a lot of these guys for at least 12 years. I’ve known some of them longer than that.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

Having said that, I must admit I wasn’t happy about getting the cops and courts beat when I started working at The Greenwich Post back in 1996. In fact, it was the last thing I wanted. I was so upset I cried. But I did my job. I didn’t love it — but it was OK.

When a new reporter joined the staff, I happily handed her the police beat. And it was only when I no longer had the job that I learned to appreciate it. With no pressure, I started doing some features on the Greenwich Police Department and getting to know everybody there a lot better. From that point on, covering cops was all I wanted to do.

In 1999 I left the Post to work at a weekly newspaper in Westchester County. And that’s when I got a chance to cover not one but three different law enforcement agencies. Two of them are pretty small and the police beat in those communities was pretty tame. And then there was the PCPD.

The Port Chester Police Department is pretty small, too. But because it serves a more urban, densely populated and ethnically diverse community, let’s just say that writing about crime there was often… challenging. Believe it or not, it was fun, too.

A lot had changed by 2003. The publisher had sold the newspaper where I had actually enjoyed working in the summer of 2001. The new owners were…. well, the less said about them, the better. So in January 2004, I moved 300 miles away from home to join the staff of what had once been one of the best suburban newspapers in the country.

I had a five-year plan when I moved to Warrenton, Va. But for various reasons I ended up staying there for more than eight. The cops in the law enforcement agencies I covered there became friends. And because I had moved to Virginia alone, without knowing anyone, they also became my surrogate family. That didn’t mean I compromised my objectivity, though. If anything, it made me work even harder to make sure my “journalistic integrity” remained in tact. (You can stop laughing now. It does exist — and I did have it.)

Having said that, there was one time when I almost lost it. It was December 29, 2009. I had just brought Eli home from the vet, and was making lunch when I heard a court deputy’s voice come across the police scanner. “Officer down! All units! Shots fired! Officer down!”

At first I thought it was some sort of drill. But I didn’t waste too much time thinking about it. I set the land speed record from my house to the courthouse, where a bank robbery suspect awaiting a hearing made a desperate bid to escape. He stabbed one deputy in the face and then used his first victim’s gun to shoot another deputy who intervened.

I arrived at the Fauquier County Circuit Court building to find the scene had already been secured. No one objected when I joined a K-9 handler on the perimeter and snapped some photographs of one of the victims being loaded into an ambulance. Long before the D.C. media arrived on the scene, I learned that perpetrator was quickly subdued and that both deputies — one of whom I knew pretty well — were expected to make full recoveries.

It was a very, very close call.

I think about that day every time I hear about a police officer being hurt or killed in the line of duty. I say a silent prayer for the victim(s) and their families. And then I thank God it was no one I know.

I think about my friends every time I hear about a law enforcement officer being hurt or killed in the line of duty. And then I say a prayer that they’ll all stay safe. Because they have husbands and wives and boyfriends and girlfriends and children and parents who would be destroyed if anything happened.

And then I think about the thugs and criminals who prey on innocent, law-abiding citizens and the cops who are sworn to protect them. And then I say a prayer that they’ll be brought to justice — even though I know that seldom happens.

Frankly it makes me sick. But not half as sick as I feel when I listen to President Obama and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio making baseless and ignorant comments that fuel anti-police sentiment. Thanks largely to their anti-law enforcement rhetoric, people like alleged Dallas sniper Micah Johnson think it’s perfectly okay to declare open season on police.

Now I will never deny that there are some really bad cops out there. There are plenty of racists and bullies in uniform — there is no doubt about it. They make me sick. And yes, Mr. Obama, they should be held fully accountable for their actions.

But what about the thugs and gangsters and criminals who routinely target honest, decent, hard-working cops in law enforcement agencies across the country? What about all of the people in this country who want to kill cops just because they’re cops? What about them, Mr. President? What about them?

The truth about Dallas

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“The term ‘domestic terrorism’ means activities that—

(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;

(B) appear to be intended —

(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;

(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or

(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and

(C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”

18 U.S. Code § 2331 – Definitions

Yes, ladies and gentlemen. By that definition the Dallas shooting that claimed the lives of five law enforcement officers and injured seven others on Thursday night was an act of domestic terrorism. Whether anyone in the Obama administration cares to admit it or not.

It was also a hate crime. Whether anyone in the Obama administration cares to admit it or not.

As defined by federal statute, “hate crime acts” include those in which someone “willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, a dangerous weapon, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion or national origin of any person…”

According to published reports, Micah Xavier Johnson, 25, was allegedly responsible for the Dallas carnage. He reportedly expressed the desire to “kill white people, especially police officers.” Johnson, who police killed during a standoff after the shooting, was apparently motivated by “recent fatal shootings of black men by police elsewhere in the United States.”

Black and white photograph of New York Police Department barriers taken by Alexandra Bogdanovic
NYPD barriers. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

In other developments, authorities in Missouri are now investigating what might have prompted a motorist to shoot a police officer during a traffic stop on Friday.

The suspect, identified as Antonio Taylor, 31, had reportedly been stopped for speeding. Then, for unknown reasons, the “routine” traffic stop took a tragic turn. Harrowing images captured on the cruiser’s camera, show the officer speaking with Taylor and returning to the police car. Taylor can then be seen approaching the patrol car, where the officer appeared to be doing paperwork. Without any visible provocation, Taylor fired three times, critically injuring the officer.

Police arrested him  a short time after he fled the scene in his car and tried to avoid capture on foot. Taylor, a convicted felon, is now facing several charges including assault on a police officer in what police have described as an “ambush.”

Meanwhile, Tennessee authorities are also trying to determine what prompted a recent shooting spree that killed one civilian, and injured two others. A police officer was also hurt.

According to media accounts, the suspect hit a civilian when he allegedly fired through a hotel window on Thursday, and then  targeting vehicles on a nearby highway. Lakeem Keon Scott, 37, who is also accused of firing at responding police officers, was also injured when they shot back.

According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, a preliminary investigation indicated that  Scott “may have targeted individuals and officers after being troubled by recent incidents involving African-Americans and law enforcement officers in other parts of the country.”

When all is said and done, I am sure the authorities will identify the motives for these attacks — but they’ll never be able to provide a satisfactory explanation. It’s  impossible — because there’s simply no cause for such hateful behavior. None whatsoever.

Blue lives matter bill puts things in perspective

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Yesterday this country lost a true hero.

A man went to work and never came home.

And now somewhere a family grieves. A wife is now a widow. Three children no longer have a father.

But there are no protests. There is no national media coverage and there is no national outrage — because Ronald Tarentino Jr. was a cop.

Officer Down

His death is summed up in a few brief paragraphs on the Officer Down Memorial Page website. Here’s what happened. Tarentino, an officer with the Auburn Police Department in Massachusetts for two years, made a traffic stop shortly after midnight. As he approached the vehicle, someone inside (allegedly) pulled a gun and killed him in cold blood.

“The subject who shot him fled the scene, but was later located at an Oxford apartment building,” the synopsis on the ODMP website says. “As officers searched the apartment he was believed to have been hiding in they discovered a secret passage into an adjoining apartment. When the officers made entry into the second apartment the subject exited a closet and opened fire, wounding one Massachusetts State Police tactical team trooper before being killed.”

Tarentino — who had previously served on the Leicester Police Department — was just 42.

Grim Statistics

Tarentino was the second law enforcement officer to die in the line of duty in Massachusetts this year. In all, 38 American police officers have died in the line of duty so far this year. Of those, 19, including Tarentino, died after being shot. The number of officers killed by gunfire so far this year represents a 46 percent increase compared to the same time period in 2015.

Black and white photograph of New York Police Department barriers taken by Alexandra Bogdanovic
NYPD barriers. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

Danville, Ohio Police Officer Thomas Cottrell — the first officer killed in the line of duty this year — was also the first to die after being shot. According to information on the ODMP website, the person who surprised him behind a local building was targeting police officers.

“At approximately 11:20 pm (January 17) dispatchers received a call from a female subject stating that police officers in Danville were in danger,” according to the synopsis on odmp.org. “She stated her ex-boyfriend was armed and intended to kill a police officer.”

When Cottrell did not respond to radio transmissions, law enforcement personnel organized and initiated a coordinated search. Searchers found Cottrell’s body a short while later and an ensuing manhunt resulted in the apprehension of the alleged perpetrator.

At just 34, Cottrell worked in law enforcement for more than a decade. He his survived by his parents, stepmother, several siblings and three children.

The Blue Lives Matter Bill

According to various media accounts, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards could soon sign a bill that would make attacking a police officer, firefighter or paramedic in that state a hate crime.

Apparently this doesn’t sit well with a lot of people — most of whom probably have no problem admitting they hate cops.

Personally, I think it’s great. Because as far as I’m concerned, all lives matter.

A ‘dogged’ quest for justice

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I love it when I find cool stories on the Internet — and I love to share good news. So I was definitely excited when I came across a heartwarming article about Patty Richardson.

Richardson is a North Carolina-based private investigator who “specializes in animal cases.” Right now she’s focused on catching the (alleged) scumbags who swipe and sell dogs.

Now that may come as a surprise to you. Frankly it surprised me, too. But given what I’ve learned about “dognapping” and related scams recently, I’m glad to hear there’s someone out there who’s willing to help people whose dogs have disappeared.

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

Of course, you might not be lucky enough to have a PI like Richardson where you live. And even if you do, there are steps you can take to find your dog before you summon reinforcements. The website fidofinder.com offers a comprehensive plan of action to follow when panic over a missing sets in. You should:

  • Calm down, take a breath and start with the obvious. Thoroughly check the house, yard and immediate area to make sure your dog is really “gone.”
  • Try to figure out how the dog got out of the house or yard and how long it might have been gone. That will give you clues about where it went and how far to look.
  • Designate someone to stay at home and man the phone when you start the search. That way someone will be available if anyone calls to report finding your dog, or brings it directly back to the house.
  • Be prepared to conduct a thorough preliminary search of the neighborhood by bringing a flashlight and photos of the dog with you.
  • Re-canvas your neighborhood on foot and by car if the initial search was not successful. You should also plaster the area with “missing dog” posters; and contact local veterinarians, animal shelters and animal control.
  • Use all available resources to spread the word, including social media and newspaper ads.
  • Remember the power of word-of-mouth. Tell your family, friends and neighbors about your missing pet.

To end on a personal note, here’s a little advice from yours truly. Don’t be afraid to call the authorities if you have reason to believe someone has stolen your pet. After all, the police are here to protect and serve.

NYC’s top cop unfazed by random attacks

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Black and white photograph of New York Police Department barriers taken by Alexandra Bogdanovic
NYPD barriers. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

Oh, goody. New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton doesn’t seem to think a recent bunch of random attacks on ordinary New Yorkers is cause for alarm.

I feel so much better now. I’ll hop right on the next commuter train headed into the City. Once I get there, I’ll take the subway all over the place without thinking twice, as if nothing’s happened.

Or not.

I’m old enough to remember how scary Manhattan was in the 1970s and ’80s.  When I was little my parents kept a close eye on me on the train, and one of them — usually my father — had a death-grip on my hand from the minute our feet hit the platform at Grand Central. He didn’t let go until we arrived at our final destination, or until we were on the train heading back to the relative safety of the New York City suburbs.

We walked everywhere in Manhattan back then. Or we took a cab. Riding the bus was rare and taking the subway was unheard of. Dad said it was too dangerous — and I believed him.

I am old enough to appreciate the City’s renaissance. By the turn of the 21st century, it was safe enough — and I felt brave enough — to venture into Manhattan alone. I even camped out in Rockefeller Center one night. Of course I did with a group of friends so we could have the best “seats” for an outdoor concert the next day.

After I moved back to Connecticut from Virginia in 2012, I took advantage of my proximity to the greatest city on the face of the earth. In fact I romped all over it. I even gained the confidence to take the bus and the subway where ever I wanted to go.

Now The New York Times report about  random crimes occurring throughout the Big Apple sends shivers down my spine. According to the Jan. 27 article, at least a dozen people have been targeted by men armed with “knives or razors” in recent months.

In and of itself, news of these incidents — some of which have occurred on the subway, in subway stations and on public streets — is chilling. The police commissioner’s response is, too.

“We will always have crime in the city,” Bratton told The New York Times.

That may be true, Mr. Bratton. But it is your agency’s job to do something about it.