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Deputy police commissioner poses as journalist to nab gunman

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    NMU         NEW YORK         Newsgathering         Jan 17, 2002    

Deputy police commissioner poses as journalist to nab gunman

  • A former television reporter used his old press cards to help negotiate the surrender of man who held a revolver to a New York police officer’s head.

New York City police on Jan. 15 subdued a man who pulled a gun on a detective during questioning at a city police station, aided by a deputy commissioner who posed as a journalist.

Police brought Adrian Lebovici into the 19th precinct because he was wanted on charges of aggravated harassment. During questioning, Lebovici brandished a .38-caliber revolver and assaulted a detective. The incident grew into a standoff as Lebovici pointed his gun at the detective’s head.

Michael O’Looney, the department’s new deputy commissioner of public information, said he arrived at the precinct around 12:30 a.m. prepared to provide reports for waiting journalists. Through the windows of the interview room, he said he could see the suspect holding a cocked gun about 12 inches away from the head of a detective.

The suspect demanded to talk to a reporter. O’Looney, in his new job for only two weeks, had been a general assignment reporter for WCBS/Channel 2 for nearly six years of his 10-year career. He happened to have several of his old business cards in his pocket.

“He was ready to take him out,” said O’Looney, who stepped forward to talk to Lebovici. “There was not time for a really long debate. I had all of 30 seconds.”

Police had also borrowed press credentials from Tom Cassidy, a reporter with WPIX/Channel 11 but didn’t use them. O’Looney talked to Lebovici, who turned his gun over several hours later. The unidentified detective was sent to a nearby hospital but was not injured.

Barbara Cochran, president of Radio-Television News Directors Association, said she couldn’t comment specifically about the New York incident. But she said such situations complicate matters in the future for journalists who confront dangerous people questioning whether they are really journalists.

“Our longstanding position has been to discourage law enforcement officials from portraying themselves as journalists because we think it undermines the journalists’ independence and makes it more dangerous for journalists in the future,” Cochran said.

Those are valid concerns, O’Looney agreed. But he said the situation he faced — a police detective with a gun to his head — required a different response.

“In a perfect world, I would never do it,” he said. “But in that situation, I would absolutely do it again.”


© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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