The Bomb That Wasn’t, The Bravery That Was

Some tourists in Times Square late last Wednesday night may have witnessed an SUV pull up to a stop next to a police van parked amid a crowd. Then they might have seen a man in the car throw a package with a blinking light attached to it into the police vehicle.

The spate of recent shootings of police officers — most recently in Dallas and Baton Rouge, but in other places, too, like towns in the states of Tennessee, Missouri and Georgia — were surely on the minds of the two patrolmen in the police van, partners Sgt. Hameed Armani and Officer Peter Cybulski.

Officer Cybulski turned to Sgt. Armani and said, “Boss, this is a bomb.”

Fortunately, as it turned out, it wasn’t. But the first action of the officers, who had every reason to think they were sharing space with an incendiary device, perhaps one of sufficient power to not only kill them but cause multiple civilian casualties, was a shining example of calm in the face of danger, compassion and professionalism.

Rather than rid themselves of the blinking package by throwing it onto the crowded street, the officers activated their siren and quickly drove to a location away from families and tourists, and removed the device, laying it on the street. And they prayed.

The police eventually determined that the package, which had been thrown around 11:30 p.m. that night, was a hoax device, made from a candle and LED-style lights wrapped in tinfoil and a T-shirt.

It turned out, though, to be a long night for the NYPD, which launched a search for the vehicle from which the device had been thrown. Commuters the next morning became aware of the events when traffic was shut down near Columbus Circle, where the vehicle was eventually found, and subways forced to bypass the area.

The vehicle’s occupant kept police at bay for six hours by refusing to exit his car and claiming to have an explosive device strapped to his chest and to want to die. Dozens of officers and a counterterrorism robot were involved in the operation, which ended with the arrest of the driver, an immigrant from Columbia who had worked for a while as a taxi driver.

The man had been acting erratically throughout but was found, thankfully, to have no explosives in his possession. He was charged with reckless endangerment, making a terroristic threat and falsely reporting an incident, among other charges.

All was well that ended well, at least for the police and public, if not the arrestee, who remains under arrest and hospitalized. But incidents like these, which, thankfully, don’t end in carnage and tragedy, require the public to stop and think — no less than unhappy happenings.

It’s not the greatest time to be a police officer. Relations between some communities and the police who protect them are fraught with friction. Dangers abound even in routine times, and especially so these days, when a number of police shootings of unarmed suspects have come to light, and unfairly made every patrolman an object of suspicion in the eyes of many, and targets for murder in the eyes of some.

There are more than three quarters of a million police officers serving federal, state and local agencies across the country. They have dangerous jobs and are not highly paid. And the vast majority of them are upstanding, professional and caring public servants.

It is important for all communities to appreciate law enforcement officers, the keepers of the public peace, not only when they are harmed or make the ultimate sacrifice, but every day. Last week’s events should remind us all of the gratitude due the men and women in uniform on our streets, who put their lives on the line daily.

During a news conference later on the day of the showdown at Columbus Circle, NYPD Commissioner William J. Bratton spoke about Sergeant Armani and Officer Cybulski. Sergeant Armani, who is one of approximately 1,000 Muslim NYPD officers, joined the department in 2006, after emigrating with his daughter from Afghanistan. Officer Cybulski is a three-year veteran.

Commissioner Bratton called them “two heroes of this department, two heroes of this city.”

“Believing they were at great risk, they did not exit the vehicle and attempt to flee it,” the commissioner recounted. “I cannot emphasize how proud I am of them.”

As we all should be.