Vicious killing of NY police officer cries out for action

Story highlights

  • Errol Louis: Bronx police officer shot dead by mentally ill man shows pressing need to grapple with cop safety and social ills
  • He says society must build systems that let us find and defuse the ticking time bombs in our midst before tragedy

Errol Louis is the host of "Inside City Hall," a nightly political show on NY1, a New York all-news channel. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.

(CNN)Her name, Miosotis, comes from the flower commonly known as forget-me-nots. And New Yorkers will never forget the vicious, unprovoked murder of Officer Miosotis Familia Wednesday morning in the Bronx.

Now comes the hard part: keeping popular rage and political score-settling at bay while we muster the popular and political will to take whatever steps might prevent a repeat of this tragedy.
Familia was shot in the head while sitting in a mobile command center vehicle, a sentry on the midnight shift trying to keep a neighborhood safe.
    A former Red Cross worker, she leaves behind three children—12-year-old twins and daughter who is in college. (For those who want to help, a fund to support them has been established by a charity run by the New York Daily News; every penny will go to the kids.)
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    Her killer was Alexander Bonds, a longtime criminal and a madman off his meds who died in a hail of police bullets moments after killing Familia. In the wake of the killings, people left vicious comments on Bonds' Facebook page with pointless taunts like, "Rot in hell," for the dead man, some placing blame on activists in the Black Lives Matter movement.
    Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the killing "the latest in a troubling series of attacks on police officers over the past two years. These attacks must stop."
    Sessions is absolutely right. But it would be foolish not to focus on causes and prevention.
    Locally, some have raised questions about whether the mobile command post where Familia died should have been outfitted with bulletproof windows and doors. $10 million was allocated to armor police vehicles after the 2014 assassination of two officers, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, as they sat in a patrol car, and, according to the New York Times, the department has bulletproofed the doors of more than 2,000 patrol cars. The city has also approved funds for bulletproofing patrol car window panels, a project now underway, according to NBCNewYork.
    Liu and Ramos were shot at point-blank range by a mentally ill man who traveled from Baltimore with the express purpose of attacking cops to avenge police killings; he committed suicide right after the ambush. Bonds also wrapped political-sounding words about police misconduct around threats posted to social media.
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    The similarities between the two cases suggest we need a hard look at the policies that have twice allowed mentally ill men to slip from disturbed to deadly with too little notice of the imminent danger. On the day of the deadly attack, a law enforcement official told the Times that Bonds' girlfriend called 911, warning that Bonds, who had a sizable criminal record and a history of psychiatric disturbances, was acting odd. Cops responded but couldn't find him.
    New York has long grappled with ways of dealing with the seriously mentally ill, with limited success and angry rebukes from the courts for mishandling the situation.
    It is easy to dismiss Bonds as an evil cop-hater. But in a free society -- especially one where we have more guns than people and a constitutional right to carry deadly weapons -- we will never have enough armor plating and bulletproof glass to stop a person from attacking police or other members of the public.
    So we have to face the trickier, more difficult challenge of painstakingly building systems that allow us to detect, deter and defuse the ticking time bombs in our midst before they explode into tragedy once again.