Danby, N.Y. — In the wake of the Danby standoff that left one man dead and a home destroyed, some residents and officials wondered why police needed such an extensive response.

Ithaca Is Bluegrass Jan. 23-25

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A few suggested that law enforcement should have simply stationed a few officers on either side of the Hornbrook Road house and waited. (David Cady, 36, was found dead after a 60-hour standoff that began when he reportedly fired on police.)

John DeCarlo

But that idea — of leaving a handful of officers in patrol cars by the house — would have been out of step with standard police practice. That’s according to policing expert John DeCarlo, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice who agreed to review the known facts about the case for The Voice.

“Once they were there, the police department does not have the option of saying ‘Okay never mind,’” says DeCarlo, a former police chief who now studies law enforcement topics and has been critical of police on some occasions.

See related: Danby official calls for state investigation of police actions in standoff

DeCarlo, who reviewed a series of articles, statements and videos about the Danby case, dismissed the idea that the police could have left two patrol cars and waited for Cady to come out.

“That’s not even a realistic alternative. What if a guy comes out with a shoulder weapon and shoots one of the guys sitting in the car?,” DeCarlo says.

Critics, including Cady’s widow, have maintained that the police response to the barricade was overzealous and excessive. They have also said the sheriff’s office handled the situation in a “militaristic” way and wondered why so much damage had to be done to the house.

See related: Pain, anger at Tompkins meeting as police defend handling of standoff

While emphasizing that he has no independent information about the case, DeCarlo said he doesn’t think those criticisms are fair. (DeCarlo has no connection to Tompkins County law enforcement and agreed to review the case as an independent authority.)

“The reality of the situation is that with a barricaded subject considered a threat to life and limb — not only to the officers but the community at large —  the department appears to have shown a degree of restraint that was consistent with policy,” he says.

“I think the police did what they were supposed to.”

Here are 3 things we learned from talking to DeCarlo:

1 — Extent of non-lethal methods

DeCarlo said he was impressed that police “used all these non-lethal methods against a guy who had a gun.” Those included sending multiple robots into the house and using gas cannisters.

DeCarlo said that when he first began reviewing the case he thought it might be an example of “bureau pathology,” of institutional failure to solve a situation. But as he learned more about the extent of the police effort to talk Cady out of the house, DeCarlo said, he felt instead that the police did all they could.

“As I read more I recognized what it seemed to be, and it brought back memories of being on the job and feeling completely powerless to effect a positive outcome,” he said.

2 — A lot still went wrong

While generally positive about the police response, DeCarlo noted the extent of technological failure (including robots that didn’t work) in the standoff. He said these technical lapses represented important setbacks to police.

“It’s a good example of good intentions, no matter how well thought-out and how well planned they are, just falling apart,” he said.

Still, he spoke highly of the use of “all of these technologies” and said he wished more police departments around the country would show as great a reliance on pursuing non-lethal methods first.

3 — Correct identification of situation

DeCarlo said the police deserve credit for accurately identifying that the situation was what is known as a “barricaded subject” rather than an “active shooter.

If Cady had been deemed an active shooter, according to DeCarlo, police would have pursued a range of different responses that may have led to a more violent outcome.

“We are lucky police recognized it was a barricaded subject,” DeCarlo said.


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.