The Chief
December 1, 2006

Mayor: Excessive Force in Shooting

Unions Protest Remark

By REUVEN BLAU

Even as the Police Department examined whether there were procedural failures that led to a fatal shooting by cops outside a Queens nightclub last week, Mayor Bloomberg Nov. 27 said he believed the undercover officers used excessive force when they fired at a car that rammed into one of their colleagues.

MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Opens fire on PBA.     
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: 'Fifty shots unacceptable.'  

"It's hard to understand why 50-odd shots should be taken," Mr. Bloomberg told reporters. "To me that sounds excessive and unacceptable, but we will wait and see for the investigation."

Unions: Rush to Judgment

Michael J. Palladino, president of the Detectives' Endowment Association, disagreed. "Every police shooting has to be judged on the individual facts," he said during a phone interview shortly after the Mayor's press conference. "So much for allowing the investigation to proceed without rushing to judgment; I think his comments taint the case before the investigation is completed."

Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, called Mr. Bloomberg's comments premature. "Only the Detectives and Police Officer who fired their weapons can explain the circumstances under which they took action, and they have not yet been heard," Mr. Lynch said in a statement. "Premature statements made without the benefit of all the facts only serve to inflame tensions and prejudice the rights of those who are presumptively innocent."

      Michael Palladino
  MICHAEL J. PALLADINO: 'Comments taint the case.'

Mr. Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly noted the NYPD procedure governing shooting at the occupants of a moving car. "The procedure is that you don't fire at a car if the car is being used as a weapon," Mr. Bloomberg said. "Whether or not the police had reason to believe that there was a gun involved, I don't know."

Were Surveilling Club

The Nov. 25 incident occurred as a group of men attending a bachelor party for Sean Bell exited the Kalua Cabaret in Jamaica, Queens at 4 a.m. Seven officers were monitoring the strip club, investigating alleged prostitution and drug use. According to Mr. Kelly, a plainclothes officer inside the club heard one of the men say that he was going to get his gun after an altercation.

Patrick Lynch     
PATRICK J. LYNCH: 'Mayor inflaming tensions.'  

The officer then left to get his shield and retrieve his own gun, Mr. Kelly said. The veteran cop followed the man and his friends on foot outside the club and positioned himself in front of their Altima, authorities said. It is unclear whether the undercover officer identified himself in front of the car, which drove into the cop, who then opened fire at the three men inside.

Source of Conflict

Critics of the department said that the officer startled Mr. Bell, who didn't realize it was an undercover Detective. Mr. Palladino, however, said the officer was wearing his badge around his neck and clearly identified himself.

Mr. Bell was killed in the shooting and two of his friends, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, were each shot multiple times from the barrage of 50 rounds fired by the five officers.

The officers involved in the shooting have been placed on administrative duty and have turned in their guns. Two other officers were a bit further away and did not use their guns.

Mr. Bloomberg said that the city would re-examine its training procedures, but he stressed that all officers receive instruction in how to deal with difficult circumstances. "We have extensive ongoing training, including training of what do you do in a situation where it's nighttime and there are noises and no one knows what's happening," he remarked.

Kelly Cites Restraint

Mr. Kelly noted that number of police shootings have increased this year to 111 from 105 in 2005. But he downplayed that rise, pointing out that it was still fewer than the level a decade ago. "We have the lowest shooting ratio of police officers to citizens in any major city in the country," Mr. Kelly added. "So our officers have shown tremendous restraint over time when involved in use-of-force incidents."

Mr. Bloomberg, however, called last week's incident "more than deeply disturbing." But he asserted that it did not appear to be racially motivated. "Nobody should think that for one second this police department is going to do anything based on race," he remarked. "We try to train our police officers very carefully to act in the manner that all of us would want them to, and by and large I think that they do."

He was flanked by a group of African-American elected officials and community activists who attended the press conference held at City Hall. Those officials included: U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, City Comptroller William C. Thompson, and City Councilwoman Leticia James.

"The community is outraged, and I am, to put it mildly, deeply disturbed," Mr. Bloomberg said. "But until we find out exactly what happened, I don't want to prejudice the District Attorney's case or any grand jury."