Editorial

Drugs, guns, cops ... and questions

A police officer stands on the sidewalk in

A police officer stands on the sidewalk in front of Charlie's Family Pharmacy in Seaford after a robber and a federal firearms agent were killed (Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011) (Credit: AP)

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Everything bad that happens at a crime scene is a result of the crime itself, and the blame belongs to the criminal. The death of John Capano, an off-duty agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, happened because James McGoey, a career criminal and drug addict who spent most of his adult life behind bars for numerous drugstore heists, decided to rob Charlie's Family Pharmacy in Seaford.

McGoey reportedly demanded oxycodone and Opana, a highly potent opiate that's becoming increasingly popular among addicts.

But McGoey and Capano, it appears, are dead at the hands and guns of one former law enforcement officer and one off-duty one, both of whom rushed to the scene. It's the second time in the space of a year in Nassau County that an officer has been killed by another law-enforcement agent at a chaotic crime scene.


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Geoffrey Breitkopf, a plainclothes Nassau police officer, was shot by a Metropolitan Transportation Authority cop in March. Anthony DiGeronimo, 21, had been spotted terrifying motorists by slashing at their cars with a large knife in Massapequa Park. When cops were called, he fled into his home and emerged in leather, masked, with knives in each hand and additional blades attached to his clothes. Two Nassau County officers shot him a total of seven times. It was only after this that Breitkopf arrived, on the scene and was killed.

It's also the second time in a year that killing has been sparked by an addict robbing a small pharmacy on Long Island. On Father's Day, David Laffer killed four people inside Haven Drugs Pharmacy in Medford and stole 10,000 painkillers for himself and his wife, Melinda Brady, who helped plan the robbery. Laffer was recently sentenced to five life sentences, while Brady got 25 years.

The Laffer case is horrifying, but causes no temptation to blame anyone but the bad guy. These shootings of officers by officers, though, raise questions. Should off-duty cops, aware there is a crime in progress, not get involved? That seems unthinkable.

So what can be done? A final report on the Breitkopf killing hasn't been released, though officials at the Nassau district attorney's office say it should be soon. That office, along with the Nassau County Police Department and the FBI, are all taking a hand in the investigation of the Capano killing. It would be wise for law enforcement agencies to enforce a protocol for communicating at crime scenes, and some common rules of engagement to describe when officers not officially called to the scene should reasonably fire weapons.

Small pharmacies should also increase security. Thieves hit such businesses more often than chain drugstores, because the big pharmacies are better protected. The little ones must emulate them.

And the rampant addiction to painkillers, and the market it's creating for stolen drugs, has to be brought under control.

The blame in Seaford lies at McGoey's feet, but it's up to society to prevent repeats. Confronting and controlling painkiller addiction, improving pharmacy security and safety, and devising response protocols for officers, whether they're on-duty, off-duty or retired, are the best ways to prevent further tragedies.

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