How many of us would rush out after an armed, and likely desperate, man who had just committed a felony? More than 40 law-enforcement officers did it last week, without hesitation.
Just after 1 p.m. Monday, a man walked into NBT Bank on Route 3 in Plattsburgh and slipped a teller a note saying he had a gun and wanted money. That set off a sequence of events that was surely fraught with fear and danger.
The robber, who appeared from surveillance video to be a heavy-set black man, walked outside with a bag containing money — no one will say how much — and disappeared in broad daylight on a scorching day.
The first State Police officers arrived at the bank about two minutes after the robbery was called in. Within five minutes, the area was crawling with police. Joining State Police through the afternoon and evening were U.S. Customs and Border Protection Border Patrol agents, Plattsburgh City Police, SUNY Plattsburgh Police, Clinton County Sheriff’s Department deputies and others. They combed the Route 3 and Rugar Street corridors, darting from one “spotting” to another. None of them panned out.
If you were listening to the police scanner, you would know that officers were trudging through wooded areas, peering into dumpsters, checking alley doorways and pulling cars over at checkpoints. All this with the prospect of coming face to face with a pursued man carrying a gun. That takes true courage.
The skeptics will say, “It’s their job,” and that is true. But being trained to approach an armed suspect and doing it for real are very different acts — and in the North Country, fortunately, police officers don’t routinely walk into possible life-and-death situations.
State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation Capt. Robert LaFountain said the officers not only searched without hesitation but with enthusiasm.
“They all have the drive to be the one to apprehend a person who is dangerous,” he told the Press-Republican. “They want to get out and make the arrest to protect the public, and they want to back up their partners.”
Officers are so eager in situations like this, he said, that supervisors have to remind them to be careful, not to take chances they shouldn’t.
The Virginia Tech shootings in April 2007 changed the approach of many police agencies to dealing with dangerous situations. On that terrible day, student Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and injured 17 in two separate attacks two hours apart, before killing himself, while officers surrounded the campus but held back. Now, LaFountain said, the operating procedure is to “go in, take a chance.” That, of course, is more dangerous for police officers.
The North Country should be proud of the reaction of its local officers that day. They were persistent, professional and brave.