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Police officers pose as TV news crew to end hostage situation

The suspect agreed to release his hostage on one condition: a news crew would broadcast his complaints

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By Suzie Ziegler

TROY, N.Y. — Police officers in New York state found a creative way to end a hostage situation last week: by posing as a TV news crew.

According to the Times-Union, the incident began late Friday when Troy police officers were called to a barricaded hostage situation. A man had crashed his car into a convenience store and took two employees hostage with a pair of scissors, the report said.

Officer William Fitch, a member of the department’s crisis negotiation team, quickly realized the man was having some sort of mental crisis.

“He kept bringing up the fact he needs to get his story out,” Fitch told the Times-Union. “He said he picked [that convenience store] because no one is listening to him.”

Fitch first convinced the suspect to release one hostage as “a show of good faith,” but the man refused to give up the second hostage. That’s when Fitch conferred with a colleague, Sgt. Nicholas Laviano, and came up with the idea of faking a TV camera crew.

Fitch and the suspect agreed on a deal: a local TV crew would broadcast the suspect’s grievances in exchange for the safe release of the remaining hostage.

Laviano called every news crew in the area and told them to “get here as fast as possible.”

News Channel 10 was the first to arrive and allowed Laviano to commandeer their camera equipment. Laviano had another officer dress up as a news camera operator.

“We made sure [the camera] wasn’t recording but the top spotlight was on,” Laviano said about the ruse.

It worked.

The unidentified suspect was taken into custody and charges are pending, according to the report. No one was injured.

Posing as journalists is not always advised. The Radio-Television News Directors Association was quoted in a 2002 article saying, “law enforcement personnel should not disguise themselves as journalists and news organizations should not cooperate in such plans.” In the same article, the FBI agreed that law enforcement posing as journalists is problematic. One reason is because it could put journalists at increased risk if the subject believes the journalist might be a cop, the Times-Union said.

But Laviano says he felt it was the right decision because a hostage’s life was in danger.

“The reason we did this is because he said he would release the hostage,” Laviano said. “We weren’t going to put a civilian in that position.”