Tuesday, November 1, 2016


Mayor and Police Commissioner throw Sgt. Barry under the bus,
Impose sanctions in an unusually rapid response


(Wednesday October 19, 2016, Castle Hills, The Bronx, NYC) The Crime Scene Unit had barely completed their methodical tasks in the apartment where hours earlier Deborah Danner, a 66-year-old woman with a long history of mental health problems was fatally shot by NYPD Sgt. Hugh Barry, an 8-year veteran of the Department, when the police Commissioner very publicly levied sanctions on Sgt. Barry.  Commissioner James O’Neill placed Barry on “modified” duty which includes his surrendering his gun and shield.  The swiftness of O’Neill’s response and the irresponsible nature of his public comments sent a clear and disturbing message to the NYPD rank and file.  “How can he say that we ‘failed’ in this incident before any kind of investigation has begun?” asked one high ranking MOS from the 43rd Precinct within the bounds of which this incident transpired.  “If some gross miscalculation or terrible lack of judgment was at the heart of this shoot, the facts will of course come out”, commented another NYPD ranking official not for attribution.

Indeed, the new Commish acted in an uncharacteristically rapid reaction that seems to belie his 30-plus years of experience as a NYC Cop.  One would be safe in the belief that this Commissioner who worked his way up the ranks during his career would at least provide some measure of a “benefit of the doubt” towards one of his Officer’s and allow due process of the internal Departmental investigation to begin.  That not having been the case, both O’Neill and Mayor Bill de Blasio appear to have already acted as prosecutors, jurors, and judges in their rush to condemn Barry’s actions.  That they are both essentially politicians one can excuse some measure of loose talk but O’Neill who has only been in his current position since September appears to have already become a politician and has forgotten the real life dynamics of a situation such as that the responding Officers encountered last evening at 6:15 upon entering Danner’s apartment at 630 Pugsley Avenue.

Danner’s neighbors called the Police reporting that she was exhibiting very erratic behavior, ranting and raving in such a way that they were concerned for their safety.  The fact that her neighbors were well aware of her mental illness and what she could be like when “off her meds” speaks to the level of threat the responding Officers could face.  While the latest Department protocol instructs that an Emergency Services Unit (ESU) be summoned to an EDP call, Sgt. Barry and the other Officers found themselves in a very “time sensitive” situation.  As is often the case the scenario went from one of de-escalation as Danner dropped the scissors she was menacingly wielding only to pick up a wooden baseball bat and lunge at Sgt. Barry.  Was Barry expected to take a blow to the head from this EDP when every Officer knows that EDPs can exhibit unnatural aggression and strength?  There are many questions to be asked and answered and that renders Commissioner O’Neill’s statements and sanctions regarding Sgt. Barry that much more inflammatory and disheartening to the NYPD rank and file.  

What the Mayor’s and Commissioner’s comments and the subsequent virtually universally negative media coverage seems to imply is that Danner, even armed with scissors and then a baseball bat, could not have possibly presented as “serious threat” to the safety of Barry and the other Officers.  This perception is not only patently erroneous; it runs contrary to what every MOS knows all too well; any call involving an emotionally disturbed person (EDP) has the inherent potential of physical confrontation and violence. That is just a fact of policing.  This point is reiterated because it is essential for a civilian to try to grasp the dynamics between all those who found themselves in Danner’s apartment last night.

The EDP label is a broad classification that runs the spectrum from a person severely intoxicated or under the influence of some drug or another up through and including people with well-known and diagnosed mental health disorders which themselves have a wide range of pathologies as well as a myriad of variations and variables that affect the “state of mind” of the individual.  In many cases there is simply not time to gather information about the individual in question.  Circumstances create the actions and response as does the physical environment and absence or presence of others. 


The Patrol Guide of the NYPD, the official “Bible” of policy and procedure for MOS makes several references to a “Zone of Safety” that should be established and maintained in many scenarios and is clearly mentioned in the sections devoted to EDPs.  The zone of safety is a “minimum of 20 feet”.  What the Patrol Guide cannot do nor can any policy or procedure no matter how detailed and well trained Officers might be, is set in stone; the specifics of the call dictate the actions in response to that unique scenario.  There are far too many variables to consider in the “area of conflict/confrontation”, too many factors to consider.  Policing is far more an endeavor in improvisation rather than acted according to a well-defined script. 

A case in point, if one has never been in a typical NYCHA apartment or any of the common five-story walk-ups of the outer Boroughs, the size of these living spaces cannot be fully appreciated.  Most of these apartments are variations of the old “railroad flat” layout where one room leads to another in a linear manner just as train cars are connected.  These rooms are small.  In many floorplans the largest single space may be no greater that 12’x10’.  This is an incredibly small space within to operate in a police action particularly involving an armed and threatening EDP. 

Much has been made of the fact that Sgt. Barry was equipped with a Taser, a CEW (Conductive Electrical Weapon) which is technically not the same as a “Stun Gun”.  The Taser shoots two (or more) darts that remain connected to the handheld weapon through which an electrical charge can be delivered.  Tasers are notoriously ineffective when the darts are unable to make contact directly with the skin and often the darts themselves become dislodged as the individual continues to move.  In Danner’s apartment, the zone Barry was operating in was much smaller than 20 feet and, as such, the Taser was not an effective choice. 

The physical spaces that Officers typically find themselves working in are indoors; narrow, dimly lit corridors and stairwells, small, cramped apartments containing still narrower passageways and very limited means of egress.  If you grew up in an apartment in a five-story pre-war walk-up in Upper Manhattan, The Bronx, Brooklyn or Queens, you are familiar with just how restrictive these spaces can be.  Restrictive spaces can simultaneously allow greater and restrict further the options Officers have at their disposal.  (Of course this discussion is addressing indoor locations; out on the streets zones of safety and the conflict/confrontation spaces are highly varied).


The simple reality of policing is that it is very often a “hands on” business.  While no two calls will ever be identical due to all the variables of the scenario, Officers acquire instincts, judgment and reactions via their experience.  The real training of MOS begins after they graduate from the Police Academy; it takes place on the streets and alleys, the open spaces and claustrophobic corridors and stairwells, subway platforms and amid all the elements of our complex urban environs.

One component of Police response that is often overlooked by uninformed outsiders, the always ready to pounce and denounce the Police media, hack politicians and bloviating “activists” is that of time.  Events can occur with amazing rapidity; a nanosecond of hesitation on the part of an Officer engaged in a dangerous interaction can result in injuries up to and including lethal damage to one or many of those in proximity to the engagement.  Yes, NYPD goes above and beyond instructed MOS in the latest “de-escalation” techniques and “best practices” but real-time policing can require split-second decision making.   

Whether enacting a “pat-down” search, making an arrest, subduing those involved in a usually volatile domestic disturbance, breaking up a street fight, or wading into the middle of some foray or another, Police Officers are often required to be physical; people in a fight, a suspect about to be placed in handcuffs, or any of the other regular activities inherent in Police intervention, perpetrators can be extremely aggressive in their resistance, to say the least.  The potential for the use of physical force is as much embedded in policing as are the hard won experiences an Officer will carry with him or her for the duration of their career and beyond.  Clearly most Officers would much rather intervene on a job without the use of physical force but, again, the circumstances can beg otherwise. 


Policing in our City is not for the faint of heart; we work within the sprawling five Boroughs of what is the most densely populated urban environment in the United States.  Actually given our 8.7 million plus residents, the volume of people who commute in to work and recreate, travelers passing through our train, bus and mass transit stations, and tourists, NYPD does a remarkable job day in, day out despite a lingering bad reputation our City notorious gained in the late 1960’s up until 1994.  Arguably it was the election of Mayor Rudy Giuliani that ushered in a new wave of policing practices, policies, and techniques.

After all those dark years as the crime capitol of the USA New York City is and has been the “Safest Big City” in America as measured by the DOJ statistics of all major crime categories and we have maintained this lofty title for the last 18 years.  No one among us can argue that NYC is not a safe place to live, work, or visit.  The credit goes without shadow of a doubt to the men and women of the NYPD.  When an Officer is vilified by the very Department he or she works for, the Mayor and the press, it is a sad state of affairs we find ourselves in.  The least the Department brass and City Hall can do is afford an Officer such as Sgt. Barry his Constitutional right to due process under the law.  When those of us who enforce the law become excluded for political reasons or any reason at all, it can instill in Officers a moment of hesitation during an engagement that could end is a tragic catastrophe.

Certainly the Department regrets that Ms. Danner put herself in a life-threatening position; no Cop ever wants to kill a person in the Line of Duty but, it does happen.  And no one except those present in that small apartment at 630 Pugsley Avenue really knows what went down and how it went down.

The Brooding Cynyx support Sgt. Hugh Barry and hope he is returned to full duty status as soon as the investigative process will allow.

Copyright The Brooding Cynyx 2016 © All Rights Reserved
Copyright Brooding Cynyc 2016 © All Rights Reserved

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