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By Jeremy Schiffres, Daily and Sunday Freeman, Kingston, N.Y.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Taking no chances

There have been some comments around town (and in the reader response area on the Freeman's Web site) that police overreacted by sending dozens of heavily armed officers to the Lake Shore Villas apartment complex in Port Ewen on Thursday after being told a man there was holding a woman against her will.

I couldn't agree less.

All police knew — from the suspect's aunt, who alerted the Ulster County Sheriff's Office — was the man was having "psychotic episodes" and wouldn't let the other person in the apartment, his sister, leave.

So dozens of cops descended on the scene, most of them armed to teeth and looking ready for battle. A hostage negotiator was brought in. Roads were closed. School buses were kept away. Other residents of Lake Shore Villas were told to stay inside their apartments.

The suspect, 28-year-old Warren Allen of Maryland, surrendered a few hours later, having done no harm to his sister, was taken for a psychiatric evaluation and was charged the next morning with unlawful imprisonment.

Once the drama ended, police determined Allen had only knives (meaning he posed no danger to anyone who wasn't within arm's length) and that his sister had locked herself in a room separate from Allen and stayed there throughout the standoff. These are the facts that have compelled may people to say the police response was over the top.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and second-guessing authorities is easy for those who don't have to make critical decisions on a moment's notice.

But remember this: The only thing the cops had to go on at 12:15 p.m. Thursday was a report of an imbalanced man holding someone hostage. Given that limited information, their response was appropriate. Because, make no mistake, if they had sent only a few officers, skipped the hostage negotiator and let people move at will through Lake Shore Villas during the ordeal, they would have been branded reckless and incompetent — and rightly so — if the suspect had been in possession of a firearm and had shot his sister or people walking within a bullet's range of the apartment's windows.

This was a classic example of where erring on the side of caution made sense, and I, for one, am glad the police did just that.



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