Police Officer Peter J. Figoski never stood a chance. He didn’t even have time, the Police Department said, to pull his gun before a man described as a career criminal killed him in Brooklyn Monday morning with a bullet to the face.
Clyde Haberman offers his take on the news.
That’s usually how it is with New York police officers: The gun almost always stays holstered, even when danger lurks. This is true despite the efforts of some New Yorkers who, driven by their own agendas, would have people believe otherwise. It is true despite a few monumental foul-ups seared in civic memory, like the police killings of the unarmed Amadou Diallo in 1999 and the similarly unarmed Sean Bell in 2006.
This is an annus horribilis for the New York police, with some of the troubles having been of their own making.
More than a dozen officers were arrested in a ticket-fixing scandal. Two others were sent to jail in the case of a young woman who said they had raped her in her apartment. Yet another was arrested and charged with grabbing a woman off the street and raping her at gunpoint. Just a few days ago, several officers were found to have posted offensive Facebook comments about the annual West Indian American Day Parade in Brooklyn.
And the department as a whole has stood accused of being overly rough at times with Occupy Wall Street protesters.
But none of that alters the reality that policing can be a risky proposition, with death in the line of duty an eternal possibility.
Dozens of readers expressed appreciation of that inescapable fact as they reacted to the killing of Officer Figoski, 47, in comments to City Room. The officer, who had been on the force 22 years, was responding with his partner, Officer Glenn Estrada, to a report of a robbery in progress. Lamont Pride, a 27-year-old with a substantial criminal record, was arrested and identified as the shooter.
If there is a silver lining in this terrible episode, it is perhaps in a realization that while death may loom for police officers, it rarely pounces these days. Monday’s horror was the first shooting death of a New York officer since 2007.
Over the last 13 years, starting in 1999, 10 officers have been fatally shot by suspects, Officer Figoski included. In eight of those 13 years, there were no such killings at all. Compare that with the previous 13 years, from 1986 to 1998. During that period, firearms claimed the lives of 37 officers. Police Department figures for officers wounded by gunfire show a similarly sharp decline.
Hand in hand with the reduction of violence against the police is a comparable reduction in the use of force by the police. That isn’t surprising. With violent crime having greatly receded over the past decade, “criminals and police enter into conflict less often,” the department said in its yearly firearms-discharge report, issued just before Thanksgiving.
The report showed that by almost any measure, officers are keeping their guns holstered more than ever before — certainly since records began to be kept in 1971.
In 2010, the number of shooting “incidents,” to use the police language, reached a record low: 92. Contrast that with 332 incidents in 1991 or an eye-popping 994 in 1972, a much wilder and woolier era. Bear in mind, too, that only 33 of those 92 episodes involved officers’ firing at a suspect intentionally. The rest included instances when guns went off accidentally, when officers killed themselves, or when the police felt they had to shoot animals.
In the most important categories of all — deaths and injuries as a result of police fire — the department reached all-time lows: 8 people killed, 16 wounded.
Inevitably, there are self-anointed experts in police science who say there is never a time when an officer should use his gun. “That’s what the proper use of pepper spray is for,” one man wrote in reaction to a brief mention of these figures by me two weeks ago.
Tell that to the parents or to the brother or to the four daughters left behind by Officer Figoski, who never stood a chance.
Here is what City Room is reading in other newspapers and blogs.
Lamont Pride, who is accused of killing Police Officer Peter Figoski, was wanted in a shooting in North Carolina in August and had a long police record. [Daily News, New York Post] (Also see The Wall Street Journal and DNA Info.)
A 29-year-old man shot and killed a 20-year-old man and then turned the gun on himself, after his girlfriend’s cousin got involved in an altercation they were having at the Fulton Houses in Manhattan. [DNA Info] (Also see The New York Post.)
Some sources say the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s 2012 budget will not restore any bus or subway services eliminated last year. [Daily News]
Firefighters rescued a worker who was dangling from a scaffolding eight stories above Gramercy. [DNA Info]
Jay Ruiz has formed a one-man security patrol in Brooklyn, where he offers to escort concerned women home subway stops. [Brooklyn Daily Eagle]
The Economic Development Corporation announced a plan to build $1 million worth of light installations around Wall Street to enliven the neighborhood after dark. [New York Post]
A central Harlem community board is weighing a plan to require bars in the neighborhood to close at 2 a.m., two hours earlier than the current last call. [DNA Info]
It may come as no surprise that an informal survey of Twitter posts about politicians in the New York metropolitan region revealed an overwhelmingly negative attitude. [Metro Focus]
A permanent ice skating rink for Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx is still under consideration, but a smaller, temporary rink will open soon and will be operated for four weeks. [Daily News]
A look inside “Fug You,” the autobiography of the Fugs’ founder Ed Sanders, an East Village stalwart. [Metro Focus]
A worker at Cypress Hills Cemetery in Queens is suing the graveyard and his superiors because, he claims, he endured years of verbal abuse and his union ignored his pleas for help. [Daily News]