Very Tough Love

updated 10/02/2006 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/02/2006 01:00AM

In 22 years as a cop, James Cavallo Sr. had never faced a more agonizing moment than on Sept. 13, when he recognized his son James Cavallo Jr., 28—whom he had helped battle a cocaine addiction several years earlier—in a local newspaper photo, robbing a bank. Cavallo, 46, acting police chief of Moore Township, Pa., describes his ordeal:

My heart just sank. Even though the photo wasn't very good, I knew who it was. A parent knows. I was stunned, I almost broke down. My heart was telling me no, no, it can't be. Jimmy would never do anything like this. But my head was telling me it was my son.

I knew if I turned Jim in he would end up in a jail and I wondered if there might be some other way I could handle it. I knew that if I didn't do anything they would probably never catch him. But I knew what I had to do.

Still in shock, Cavallo drove to the police department in the next township, where the bank had been robbed.

I asked Det. Gary Hammer if he had any other surveillance photos. As soon as I saw them, I felt sick to my stomach. Now that I knew for sure it was Jimmy, I also knew we had to act fast. I was just praying that I'd reach him before anything else bad happened.

Cavallo and Detective Hammer drove to his son's house. Following denials, Jimmy handed his father $3,830 of the $6,000 stolen.

He said: "There's the money, Dad ... what's left of it. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." He started crying and shaking. He said he was high on cocaine when he gave the teller a note saying he had a gun.

They arrested Jimmy and put him in handcuffs. I put my arms around him and gave him a hug and told him how much I loved him. I said, "But now, you've got to go and answer for what you did, Jimmy." He said, "I know, Dad, I know." He started crying again. He seemed, I don't know, almost relieved.

Charged with robbery, theft and receiving stolen property, Jimmy confessed and is in jail in lieu of $500,000 bail awaiting a preliminary hearing.

I've seen people go to prison just end up coming out better criminals. But I've also seen people's lives turned around and that's what I'm hoping will happen to Jimmy. I'm going to be here for him for however long it takes.

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