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2006 took toll on police agencies Life-threatening situations alarming

With less than 12 hours to go in 2006, local police again found themselves confronted with a life-threatening situation that has law enforcement officials hoping 2007 will be safer for them and the public.

The police community, already reeling from the shootings of two Buffalo police officers and Ralph "Bucky" Phillips' shooting of three state troopers, narrowly escaped another assault Sunday afternoon when a Springville man armed with a hunting knife repeatedly lunged at two Erie County sheriff's deputies.

For a rookie deputy who started his patrol career just two weeks ago, the knife attack provided a hard lesson in the dangers of law enforcement.

Deputy Benjamin Pisa, 24, believing his partner, Deputy James Mirusso, had been slashed, shot and killed Roger S. Duchnik.

Sheriff Timothy B. Howard said the shooting was an act of self-defense.

Pisa and Mirusso, judging from the events of the last year, are among the fortunate. Several police officers have fared worse at the hands of criminals.

On Dec. 5, just six days after Phillips had pleaded guilty to fatally shooting State Trooper Joseph A. Longobardo and wounding Troopers Donald H. Baker Jr. and Sean Brown, the Buffalo Niagara region was jolted by the news of another shooting of police.

Buffalo Police Officers Patricia A. Parete and Carl E. Andolina were shot at close range when they responded to a report of a fight in a city gas station. A teenager on parole who police said feared he would be sent to prison has been charged with the shootings.

Parete recently had a bullet removed from her neck and is fighting to regain feeling and movement in her body.

Andolina, who was less severely wounded, continues to recover and has appeared in court willing to testify against their alleged shooter, 19-year-old Varner Harris Jr.

All of this, area police officials say, is more than enough tragedy for one year.

Buffalo Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson and Howard speak with firsthand knowledge when it comes to confronting violence.

Twice in Gipson's career, he said, he has had to draw his gun and shoot criminals who intended to either shoot or stab him.

In 1976, he and his partner broke up an attempted robbery at a Fillmore Avenue deli. During a foot chase, the robber turned around and pointed a sawed-off rifle at Gipson, who shot the man. The would-be robber recovered and was sent to prison.

About 10 years later, while off-duty and on his way home from an Easter egg hunt at Martin Luther King Jr. Park, Gipson spotted two men robbing a woman of her purse as she and her mentally disabled son were leaving a library branch.

"I pursued one of the men into a yard, and we were in a hand-to-hand struggle when he pulled out a knife. I shot him in the ankle," Gipson said. "I recovered the lady's purse."

The woman sent Gipson's little daughter, who had attended the egg hunt, a handmade doll.

"My 25-year-old daughter still has that doll," the commissioner added, recalling with enthusiasm just "how great it felt" to help that mother so long ago.

It is that call to service, Gipson explained, that draws so many young people into the dangerous profession of law enforcement.

He said his hopes for the new year are that police and citizens will be safe and that the city's fiscal control board will approve a pay raise for his officers in recognition of their willingness to put their lives on the line.

Howard likens those who enter law enforcement to individuals who join the country's Armed Forces.

"You recognize it is a dangerous job, but it is truly for a good cause," said Howard, who found out just how dangerous police work was when as a state trooper in 1982 he shot and killed a Gowanda-area man who had just killed his partner, Trooper Gary Kubasiak.

"Gary's two sons went on to become state troopers and so did my two sons," Howard said. "I tell my sons always be alert and keep in balance that not everyone out there wants to hurt you, but many people do."

Howard also has advice for Pisa, the young deputy who shot and killed the Springville resident in the driveway of the man's mother's Concord home.

"He needs to talk about it with officers who have gone through that type of situation. He's been made aware of the availability of [counseling] and encouraged to seek it out if he feels it is necessary," Howard said.

He said the Internal Affairs unit of the Sheriff's Office is reviewing the shooting, but Pisa does not face disciplinary charges.

The 52-year-old Duchnik, according to information received by authorities, was mentally ill and not taking his medication.

Reflecting on the shootings of state police and attacks on other officers, Daniel M. DeFedericis, president of the State Troopers Police Benevolent Association, said he hopes 2006 was not the beginning of a trend toward more violence against law enforcement.

"On a narrow scale, 2006 was more awful than we could have imagined for the state police family and the police family in general," DeFedericis said. "2007 has to be a better year."

e-mail: lmichel@buffnews.com

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