Letter: Hofstra hostage call unpredictable

Police stand guard as tape cordons off the

Police stand guard as tape cordons off the house where Hofstra University student Andrea Rebello and armed robber Dalton Smith were killed during an armed home invasion at an off-campus residence in Uniondale. (May 17, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

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I hesitate to write about police action without the benefit of a full investigation and the exposure of all the facts [" 'Should have tried negotiation,'" News, May 21]. But in consideration of some comments in Newsday articles, I feel compelled to provide a competing view.

While it is certainly true that hostage negotiation is designed to slow down and contain a captor, there are also important predicates to that position, and, more important, conflicting principles at work. The world of policing is not an ideal place.

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An officer responding to a call that reports a "possible hostage situation" must pull up at the scene and make a quick judgment. If entry is deemed necessary, perhaps by the call of a victim, the sounds of physical assault or maybe just experience, that tells the cop action must be taken to save or protect lives. We must as a society defer to that assessment.

Once inside, an officer who confronts a gunman with a hostage is not in a position to simply retreat. The actions that follow are usually reactive and circumstantial. If there are others in the house and the officer can initiate dialogue with the offender, that is preferred, but an armed opponent represents an unpredictable danger to a hostage, the cop, other occupants and other officers. These are incredibly trying circumstances and must be judged by experienced minds -- people who understand that, regrettably, friendly fire goes with the territory.

The officer who fires at a dangerous gunman almost without exception does that out of necessity, not desire, and must forever live with the consequences.

Michael J. Butler, Greenport

Editor's note: The author is a retired Nassau County police captain and former hostage team leader.


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