The Chief
February 15, 2002

Mayor: NYPD Will Not Repeat Diallo

PBA: 'Took Heat for Rudy'

By William Van Auken

On the third anniversary of the fatal shooting of Amadou Diallo by four Street Crime Unit officers, Mayor Bloomberg insisted that the threat of such a searing crisis for police-community relations had decreased because of his election and the appointment of Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly.

"I think that Ray Kelly is providing the leadership and training for the Police Department, so the likelihood of an event like that is diminished," the Mayor said at a City Hall press conference last week.

PBA: Amen

The remark, which implicitly faulted former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his then Police Commissioner Howard Safir for their handling of the shooting, was endorsed by the president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, who blamed Mr. Giuliani for further politicizing the tragedy.

"I think a lot of what happened was due to the fact that there was not a pool of good will because of the policies of Mayor Giuliani," said PBA President Patrick J. Lynch. "Much of the blame was placed on the shoulders of police officers, when people were angry not so much at the police as at the Mayor."

The Feb 4, 1999 shooting on Wheeler Ave. in The Bronx led to a trial in which the four officers were acquitted of murder charges by an Albany jury. The prosecution was moved upstate after defense attorneys successfully argued that the cops could not receive a fair trial in The Bronx.

The Street Crime Unit, a centralized command that specialized in plainclothes patrols directed at taking guns off the street, was itself effectively disbanded. The NYPD first put its officers back in uniform and then dispersed them to the separate borough commands.

Multiple Federal, state and city probes of the NYPD followed, along with civil disobedience protests at the entrance to 1 Police Plaza. The PBA attributed much of the public outrage directed against police officers to what it charged was the department's quota system for summonses and arrests that had turned cops into "pests" in the neighborhoods.

The police union under Mr. Lynch's predecessor passed a vote of no confidence in the Commissioner Safir, whose trip to the Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles after saying he was too busy to attend the first City Council hearing on the shooting came to symbolize the administration's seeming indifference to the public outcry.

Mr. Lynch argued that the previous administration failed to see the need for a shift in tone and tactics after the department succeeded in bringing about record crime reductions.

"City Hall should have reached out to the neighborhoods and the churches and had a dialogue with the communities, so that people could understand how and why the police had reduced crime; that wasn't done," said the PBA president.

Union's Outreach

Mr. Lynch added that the police union is itself continuing community outreach efforts begun shortly after his election in July 1999 and intensified after the fatal shooting of Patrick Dorismond by plainclothes narcotics Detectives nine months later.

Two other police officers, one the president of the union representing senior police supervisors and the other the head of an African-American fraternal group, voiced skepticism about Mr. Bloomberg's claim that the change of administrations last month reduced the chances of another controversial police shooting.

"It's very tough to make a guarantee that this kind of tragic mistake won't take place," said Captains' Endowment Association President John F. Driscoll. "You can be as careful as you can be, but cops are human beings."

The four Street Crime officers claimed that they fired 41 shots at Mr. Diallo after mistaking his wallet for a gun.

Capt. Driscoll said he was unaware of any new training that the department has introduced under Mr. Kelly that would address situations like the Diallo shooting.

Praise for Kelly

He did credit the new Commissioner, however, with a greater sensitivity to police community relations.

"Ray Kelly has always emphasized strong community ties," the Captains union leader said. "If there were another tragedy like that one, I think that he would be able to at least get more of an understanding of the work that police officers do."

Bringing in a new Mayor and a new Police Commissioner will do little if anything to change underlying problems in the department that surfaced with the Diallo shooting, contended Lieut. Eric Adams, head of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care.

'Same Old Strategy'

"We are one car stop, one stop-and-frisk or one, 'I thought I saw a gun' away from another Diallo shooting," said Lieut. Adams. "The department's strategy has not changed. It is still pursuing the quality-of-life onslaught and the aggressive crime-fighting tactics that led to the shooting of Diallo and Dorismond."

The NYPD, he added, needed to address problems in recruiting larger numbers of African Americans into its ranks and to provide training both to police officers and community members aimed at avoiding the wrongful use of force.

"Unless City Hall and 1 Police Plaza acknowledge the depth of the problem, the danger may become greater," said Lieut. Adams. "Many people are confusing image with substance in this administration, thinking that because Mayor Bloomberg smiles and winks at you that things have changed."

In his remarks at City Hall, the Mayor seemed to acknowledge that another controversial police use of deadly force was indeed likely on his watch.

"I will do the best I can to make sure if and when - unfortunately, probably when - events happen that we wish had not take place, that the outreach and the confidence in all communities that Ray and I are building will be sufficient to explain to people, comfort people, and convince people that we'll take steps to make sure whatever event takes place doesn't happen again," said Mr. Bloomberg.