Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Beware of hot sauce and antlers

While spending several days visiting my Mom in Lake George, NY last week, I discovered that I had tapped into a rich vein of "news of the weird" crime stories.

These were just a few of the colorful cops-beat articles that appeared in the Post-Star of nearby Glens Falls that week:

1. In a rough-and-ready Glens Falls bar called the Daily Double, a man named Frederick A. Stimpson was apparently dared by two of his friends to swipe some money out of the cash register. There's a good bet that a considerable amount of alcohol was involved.

Unfortunately for Stimpson, bartender Shawn Breault turned out to be a professional boxer and Toughman competitor. Interrupting the caper in progress, he threw some hot sauce in Stimpson's face, blinding him. Then he knocked him out with one punch.

One of the people who had challenged Stimpson, Christine M. Amilfitano, was found to have a filet knife on her person. But there was a logical explanation, she told police: She planned to use it later to filet a snapping turtle.

2. How can you not read a story under the headline: "Neighbor's Dispute Ends in Antler Stabbing"? It seems that Bernie Baker of Moreau was building a fence on his property with some of his friends. His next door neighbor, Stacey Harrington, took exception to the fence construction, and an argument ensued -- whereupon Harrington went back into the house, emerged with a set of antlers and attacked Baker and his friends with them.

"My friends were stabbed with deer antlers, and for what?" complained Tracy Baker afterward.

3. In addition, I loved this rather deadpan line from a brief article about a burglary:

"Sandford said Anastasia went into the woman's home, vandalized it and then head-butted the woman. She suffered minor injuries."

The same week, there was also a high-speed (or low-speed) chase between a bicycle cop and a bicycle-riding fugitive on the Lake George bike path, a teenager who allegedly threw a pair of electric clippers at her mother, and perhaps the world's first recorded hit-and-run case involving a cow and a boat (the cow somewhow wandered into a canal, where it was struck and killed by a boat that kept going).

All of this would seem to prove that favorite mantra of the National Rifle Association -- take away guns and people bent on violence would just use ...

Well, antlers. Or hot sauce. Or their heads.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Should law enforcement think outside the cell?

These days, we're always being urged to "think outside the box." Maybe it's time for law enforcement to think outside the cell.

The general rule at the moment, whether institutionalized by legislative decree or not, is that police and sheriff's departments never, ever, hire anyone with a criminal record.

But when you think about it, does that really makes sense?

I'm not suggesting that law enforcement agencies set up recruiting offices in Leavenworth or Sing Sing. As with so many other things, though, the "one size fits all" ban on ex-cons has undoubtedly robbed us of some potentially savvy, capable and committed police officers. After all, who knows crime and criminals as well as someone who used to be there?

Not only would this added insight help the law enforcement departments, but it would provide a ray of hope for those who truly want to put their past behind them.

Conditions, of course, would have to be met. Here are some suggestions:

1. The individual must have spent an agreed-upon amount of time out in society without getting in any more trouble (maybe psychologists could establish the proper time frame here).

2. Those who committed violent crimes would have to be culled out. If someone has serious anger issues, for examples, he's not the sort of person we want to hand a badge and gun to.

3. It would be a good idea if the individual sought employment somewhere other than the place where he committed his or her crimes. That would prevent any emotional conflict from having to arrest old friends, family members or crack-smoking acquaintances.

4. The person would have to jump through the usual educational hoops and complete the usual training programs.

After all that, though, why not? Another plus for ex-cons is that they approach the street with a certain amount of understanding and empathy, unlike those whose earlier lives have been more sanitized.

It would be a risk, to be sure, and some departments might shrink from the specter of having an ex-offender they'd hired backslide in a very public way.

On the other hand, most of the cops who misbehave on the job only see a jail cell after the fact.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

D Day was even worse than you think

What most people today don't understand about the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944 is that it was actually a massive screwup.

Movies like "The Longest Day" depict a meticulously planned operation, executed flawlessly. But if you talk to the combatants who were there, you come away with the sense that nothing could be farther from the truth.

No military commander in his right mind would have sent his troops ashore in the face of the devastating barrage from above that killed 19 out of 35 Bedford men from Company A of the 116th Infantry Division, along with hundreds of other Allied soldiers. That German resistance was supposed to have been battered to a pulp by American, British and Canadian air power -- and besides, the defenders at Omaha Beach were said to have been green conscripts from Eastern Europe.

As it turned out, while some of the German batteries were taken out, the mischievous tides shifted many of the landing craft to an area of Normandy's Omaha Beach that was more fiercely (and capably) defended than intelligence reports would have indicated.

The advance aerial bombardment was supposed to have accomplished two purposes -- to take out as many of the German guns as possible and to create shell craters on the beach in which the invading troops could take cover.

None of this happened where Company A charged ashore. Resistance was almost overwhelming, and it came from seasoned German marksmen. The only way to find cover was to sprint across the beach, weighed down with wet clothes and equipment, and seek shelter against the face of the escarpment.

According to some later accounts, commanding Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower actually carried a worst-case scenario speech in his pocket throughout much of that longest day, something to refer to when explaining to the nation that the operation had failed, and why.

Indeed, once he saw what was unfolding, Eisenhower thought briefly of scrapping the invasion. But the huge armada of warships and planes had already been set in motion.

On the beach, military discipline stepped aside in favor of survival. Their ranks scattered, their commanding officers lying dead in the sand, the Allied soldiers simply did what they had to do as individuals to stay alive.

Now, time is reducing their ranks with cold efficiency. After the death of Roy Stevens earlier this year, Bedford resident Ray Nance inherited the mantle of Lone Survivor among the so-called Bedford Boys -- the group of National Guardsmen whose sacrifice provided the rationale for placing the National D-Day Memorial alongside U.S. 40.

So if you happen to see Nance this week, don't forget to thank him. He endured even more than you realize.