Editorial in support of PBA efforts

Below is an editorial printed in the Elmira Star-Gazette newspaper on September 21, 2006. The newspaper has taken the position in support of the PBA’s letter to our state’s top elected officials to initiate an independent investigation of the way the manhunt for Ralph Phillips was conducted. The editorial is shown below.

Justified concerns
Troopers association’s criticism of Phillips manhunt deserves thorough, credible review.
September 21, 2006

How easy it would be for the upper echelon of the New York State Police and for top state officials to dismiss the scathing criticism from the troopers union president on the handling of the Ralph "Bucky" Phillips manhunt.

But that wouldn’t be a smart thing to do. After all, the New York State Troopers Police Benevolent Association represents about 3,600 state police employees, many of who put their lives on the line every day. And nowhere is that more apparent than in a Chemung County courtroom this week as testimony unfolds in the trial of the man accused of killing Trooper Andrew J. Sperr in Big Flats.

Sperr was the first of two troopers to be fired at in Chemung County within a three-month period, but it was the nonfatal shooting of a second trooper, Sean M. Brown, on June 10 that sent state police on a three-month chase before they finally cornered Phillips just inside the Pennsylvania-New York state line. That prolonged search, PBA President Daniel M. De Federicis wrote in a letter, was so poorly planned and managed that state officials, from the governor to the attorney general and the Legislature, should insist on an independent investigation.

The letter accuses state police administrators of a number of bad decisions, including an unwillingness to cooperate with federal, county and local law enforcement agencies that sought to help with a search stretching from east of Binghamton to the southwest corner of New York state.

Whenever rank-and-file union members complain, management’s instinct is to reject the criticism and go on the defensive. But De Federicis’ remarks ought not to be taken lightly. One trooper, Joseph Longobardo, was shot dead during the search. Another, Donald Baker Jr., is in serious condition from wounds suffered during the shooting that killed Longobardo.

The troopers’ PBA president has every right to be worried. Troopers need to be confident that when the next such search occurs that any mistakes made in the Phillips manhunt won’t be fatally repeated. The only way to do that is with an unbiased investigation, and even though State Police Superintendent Wayne Bennett disagreed with De Federicis’ remarks, he said he would welcome an independent investigation.

The PBA’s accusations say that internal turf wars cause overworked troopers, which endangered their lives. Such conduct, if true, threatens troopers’ safety as well as the public’s when such searches take place.

Phillips was considered a petty thief when he escaped an Erie County jail in April, but he later turned into a suspect regarded as armed and dangerous. No matter where he was hiding, Phillips posed a constant threat to society as well as law enforcement. That threat deserves answers as to why it took so long to capture him, and state police officials should want those answers more than anyone — even if they hurt.