Monday, March 30, 2015

Castro's Cop Killer

Joanne Chesimard has been in the news lately, primarily because of the potential thaw in relations between the US and Cuba.  In 1977 Chesimard was convicted for the killing of a NJ State Trooper in 1973 and given a life sentence, but she escaped prison two years later and subsequently made her way to Cuba, where she has been living ever since, comfortably writing books and enjoying political asylum offered by Castro’s Cuba.

It was May 2, 1973, not long after midnight when Troopers James Harper and Werner Foerster were patrolling the New Jersey Turnpike and stopped a car with three occupants, two men and a woman.  The car had been running only slightly above the speed limit but had a non-functioning taillight.  Details of various accounts differ, but there is no doubt that a gunfight involving semi-automatic weapons erupted and Trooper Foerster was fatally wounded, first by shots from the weapons carried by those in the car and then shot in the head with his own service weapon.

Following multiple court proceedings and with the outrageously bombastic William Kunstler as her attorney, Chesimard was convicted as an accomplice in the murders.  Ultimately, she was lodged in the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women, a bucolic-appearing setting located less than two miles from the offices of the Badge Company of New Jersey.

On November 2, 1979, Chesimard was taken from her cell to the visitor’s area to meet with several people who had come to see her.  It was a setup.  In a daring daylight prison break, the visitors produced weapons, took a Corrections Officer and a prison driver hostage, and drove off the prison grounds into a nearby parking lot where other vehicles awaited them.

Despite an intensive search spanning several years, Chesimard was not apprehended before making her way to Cuba.

On numerous occasions attempts have been made to persuade Cuba to extradite Chesimard, to no avail.  Now, regardless of any potential normalizing of relations, Cuba has indicated that it has no intention of returning Chesimard to the US.

Chesimard, by the way, has long since chosen to go by a different name, and we have chosen not to use it.  We have also chosen not to use a photo of her, choosing instead to honor Trooper Foerster by using his photo with this story.

No matter her name or her appearance, Joanne Chesimard remains a convicted killer and a fugitive from justice.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Hire a Vet

A recent issue of The Journal News in Westchester County, New York, (just north of New York City) carried an article concerning the number of police agencies hiring military veterans, and highlighting how well this is working out for both the agencies and the vets.

Writers Richard Liebson and Steve Lieberman quoted Yonkers Police Lt. Patrick McCormack as saying, "In many cases, they're exactly what we're looking for. The military background gives them a leg up on other candidates. They're used to the training and discipline, and they know enough to listen and learn while they get experience on this job.

Clarkstown Police Chief Michael Sullivan said prior military experience is "a positive, like speaking more than one language."  He added that veterans "have discipline and understand the chain of command."

Similarly, the story carried quotes from veterans now on the job, such as White Plains officer Collin Breen (pictured), interviewed on what was literally his first day on the street, where he was training under the watchful eye of an experienced patrol officer.

"So far, so good," Breen said. "They tell me it's kind of slow today. I'm looking forward to interacting with people, going out on calls on my own. Serving my community. That's a big part of it for me."

Prior to becoming a rookie cop with the White Plans Police Department, Breen was a Marine captain and helicopter pilot who flew 20 troop transport missions a month during deployments to Iraq in 2007 and 2009.  Of the police work environment, Breen said that "a lot of things are familiar — it's a toned-down version of what we're used to in the military.  But there are definitely differences. When I was at the academy, we got to go home every day at 1600 (4 pm for those lacking military experience).  In the military, they put you through hell all day and you don't always get to go home. That's one difference my wife really likes."

According to the article, eight of the 55 graduates of the Westchester Police Academy class this past December are military veterans.  All eight are now rookie police officers.

White Plains police commissioner David Chong said rookies with military experience have little trouble making the transition to life in law enforcement.  "The police department is a paramilitary organization, but the veterans come from a strict military organization," he said. "They're used to the formal command structure, the discipline and the training, and they've proven that they have what it takes to work well under pressure. It makes them very attractive candidates."

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Toying with Criminals

Toy guns are now made in bright colors, to distinguish them from the real thing.  Where in post- World War II America children would play with revolver-style cap pistols that resembled those used by cowboy heroes in movies and on television, today’s toy guns often are more true to the appearance of modern firearms.  And there have been instances of children and adults being shot because police officers thought a real gun was being brandished.  Hence, legislation making the use of bright colors mandatory for makers of toy guns.

But, there’s a problem.  The gun is the photo is not a toy.  It’s the genuine article, painted to resemble a toy.  And just as there have been tragic episodes involving realistic-looking toy guns, there have been numerous cases of police officers encountering fully-functional weapons painted to look like toys.

Requiring toy guns to be made in bright colors does nothing to enhance the safety of either the public or police officers.  Police officers must still assume that any gun, regardless of hue, is loaded and capable of being fired.

Sure, you can distinguish a real gun from a toy.  Pick it up, feel its heft, examine it.  But in the split-second decision-making that police officers face when dealing with someone holding a gun, the time to make such a determination is absent.

The legislation mandating that toy guns be colorful in appearance can be filed under the heading of “feel-good” legislation.  It makes some people feel good, but accomplishes nothing else.