New York Daily News

January 31, 2004

Did Kelly jump the gun? Yes


POINT/COUNTERPOINT

By PATRICK J. LYNCH

No one values human life more than police officers. We share the sorrow of Timothy Stansbury Jr.'s family and friends and offer our condolences and prayers for them and for him.

Mayor Bloomberg also offered condolences and comfort to the Stansbury family, and it was appropriate to do so under these circumstances. He is responsible to the city and its citizens for the actions of city employees.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, on the other hand, is the city's chief law enforcement officer and by law is charged with managing the NYPD. It is his responsibility to ensure the integrity of investigations. His premature statement only hours into the investigation effectively tainted it and caused the public discourse to change from determining what occurred on the rooftop to demanding prison for the officer. The officer has been tried, convicted and sentenced before anyone knows the full story.

The extraordinary work police officers do earns us the benefit of the doubt and the presumption of professionalism. We deserve, at a minimum, the same due process granted to every American. In this case, that right has been compromised.

What about the public's right to know? How many times have we heard in similar situations a statement like "at this point in the investigation, although there was no weapon found, we cannot determine if the actions of the officer were proper or not until a thorough investigation is conducted."

That is the kind of response that serves the public's right to know, preserves the integrity of an investigation and does not unfairly affect the officer's rights. Determining whether the shooting was within the department's guidelines can only be done when the investigation is completed. Otherwise, we run the risk of investigators attempting to back into conclusions already announced by their superior.

Police officers are asked to put their lives on the line every day. Ask the family of Officer Anthony McLean, who was killed while performing the seemingly routine task of searching for a lost child in a housing project.

As I said, we deserve the same due process as any other citizen. The commissioner denied the officer in the Stansbury case that right by jumping to a conclusion.

Lynch is president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.