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Violence jolts State Police With 7 officers dead since mid-2005, officials worry about effects on troopers, families

In times past, the life of a state trooper was relatively calm -- sometimes even comparatively safe for a law enforcement officer.

In the last 22 months, though, seven troopers have been killed and seven others have been wounded by gunfire, all in the line of duty.

"It's getting a little crazy in the smaller towns and rural areas. These kids have no qualms about attempting to kill a cop," said Trooper John P. Moretti of the State Police station in Boston. "We always know a tragedy can occur, but these have been coming way too often. Once again, we have a widow with a young baby."

Moretti was referring to Trooper David C. Brinkerhoff, a Southtowns native, who was killed Wednesday while pursuing a man who had shot another trooper the day before in the Catskill Mountains.

A quick look at the State Police memorial for fallen troopers in Albany tells the story best for its approximately 5,000-member force. Five troopers died in the line of duty in the first half of this decade. Since the middle of 2005, seven have been killed.

The violence is leaving its mark.

"We all know it's part of the job, but it is becoming more prevalent, and it is always on our minds," said Moretti, a police union delegate.

With no easy way to cope with death and injury inflicted by criminals, troopers are taking comfort in the belief that they are one big family. They also are examining what has happened to make their occupation more dangerous than ever.

"It seems the last few years, it's changed. It's not as safe as it used to be, not that it was ever that safe, but society has changed," said Trooper David D. Rose, a 24-year veteran.

"There's a big disregard for human life. The respect that used to be there years ago for any authority figure is not there anymore," said Rose, who works at the Clarence substation.

When he makes a traffic stop, Rose said, he is less likely to be treated respectfully.

"You have to have more patience than you used to. You have to take a lot more guff in our days," he said.

State troopers are perhaps most visible enforcing traffic laws on the Thruway and rural highways, but they have served as the primary police force in many rural sections of the state for years.

And the dangers have grown, according to State Police Sgt. David M. Denz, because urban problems have become the problems of suburbia.

"Drug use is extending into smaller communities and villages throughout the state," said Denz, who also works at the Clarence substation.

Even with these unwelcome changes, he said, one thing remains constant.

"Basically, law enforcement in general, whatever agency you're from, is one big family," he said.

There is comfort in that, he said. There also may be a sense of peace that can be found in embracing the reality of the job.

"I don't want to speak for everybody, but you realize that something like this [death in the line of duty] could happen to any of us," said Denz.

Sgt. Peter F. Rougeux, Lewiston State Police supervisor, said the violence against troopers last summer and this week has exacted a heavy toll.

"It's surprisingly somewhat of an emotionally draining situation, even though we don't talk about it that much," Rougeux said. "It's been a bad seven months, and you can see it in everyone's demeanor at the station."

Rougeux was referring to the shooting death of Trooper Joseph Longobardo last summer by Ralph "Bucky" Phillips, who also wounded two other troopers, coupled with Brinkerhoff's death and the wounding of two more troopers in the latest incident.

While the sense of family binds troopers through hard times, Rougeux said that same spirit appears to be waning elsewhere in society.

" . . . a general feeling of family and community is diminishing," the sergeant said, adding, "If somebody feels a part of that [community], they would be less likely to use deadly physical force."

Daniel M. De Federicis, president of the Police Benevolent Association of the New York State Troopers, said his union's members have no choice but to stick together through adversity.

"It's a dangerous society out there, and the problems are not easily solved," De Federicis said. "We are a tight-knit family and will persevere and get through this."

The union, he said, is providing all it can to the families of the troopers affected by this week's shootings -- moral support, funds and prayers.

Lt. Glenn R. Miner, a State Police spokesman, said the force also is providing counseling to troopers and their families affected by this week's shootings.

e-mail: lmichel@buffnews.com

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