March 14, 2016, 2:04 PM
The decision last week by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara not to bring Federal civil-rights charges against Police Officer Richard Haste in the fatal shooting of 18-year-old marijuana suspect Ramarley Graham prompted a new outcry about the failure to hold cops accountable in the deaths of unarmed black men.
The NYPD in the wake of that decision has begun the process of determining whether internal charges should be brought against Officer Haste, who said that based on police-radio transmissions he believed that Mr. Graham had a gun at the time he ran into his grandmother’s apartment and that he fired his service weapon when he saw the teen reaching into his waistband.
There is a legitimate concern that such a movement may involve either drawing a gun or securing a weapon that is being concealed there. On the other hand, given a regrettable fashion statement by many young men, sometimes it reflects nothing more sinister than having to hitch up their pants when their drooping due to natural bagginess and/or lack of a belt becomes more of a problem than they had intended.
In this case, it’s possible that his waistband was where Mr. Graham had been concealing the bag of pot that was found on the bathroom floor after Officer Haste shot him. But ultimately, Mr. Bharara said, “The investigation revealed no evidence to refute Officer Haste’s claim that he shot Mr. Graham in response to his mistaken belief that Mr. Graham was reaching for a gun.”
The U.S. Attorney also noted, “Neither accident, mistake, fear, negligence nor bad judgment is sufficient to establish a Federal criminal civil-rights violation.”
The NYPD, which requires a lower standard of proof both to bring charges and to find an officer guilty, may ultimately conclude that matters like negligence and bad judgment played a role in the shooting and therefore Mr. Haste should be fired.
But one issue he would probably cite in his defense would be that he wasn’t given the training the NYPD customarily provides to street-narcotics officers in tailing a suspect. This issue—lack of training—has been a recurring theme in three high-profile cases in which unarmed black men died over the past few years: the more-recent ones involved the death of Eric Garner after a cop trying to arrest him applied what appeared to be an NYPD-banned chokehold, and the fatal shooting of Akai Gurley by Officer Peter Liang, who believed himself incapable of administering first aid to the stricken victim.
Following Mr. Garner’s death, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said he was ordering new training for all patrol cops, seemingly implying that Officer Daniel Pantaleo had been too quick to turn the incident into a physical confrontation. Last week, the department stripped CPR instructor Melissa Brown of her badge and gun and placed her on modified duty in connection with the testimony of both Mr. Liang and his partner, Shaun Landau, that they received at best perfunctory training in CPR and first aid as rookie officers in the Police Academy and passed their exam covering those skills only because they were “fed” the answers.
Mr. Bratton reacted angrily when asked about their claims last month, noting that he had ordered an Internal Affairs Bureau probe immediately after such testimony came from Officer Landau, who was fired the day after his partner was convicted of manslaughter.
It’s hard to understand why the department apparently has given short shrift to the CPR training at the Police Academy if it believes it is an important skill for cops to possess. The simple answer is that doing a thorough job would require more time; given that the training period runs 22 weeks and the department schedules no more than two classes per year, it would seem feasible to devote an extra two or even three days to CPR training without holding up the next class of officers.
It is often said that it’s difficult to apply the training of the Police Academy to the real-life situations officers encounter. That explanation is most commonly offered when something goes wrong; conversely, cops being honored for heroic actions have been known to shrug off personal credit by saying, “I just followed my training.” Maybe they’re being too modest, but it’s clear that being well-trained is an asset for any good officer.
In all three of these cases, the officers got their training during the Bloomberg administration, which took pride in continuing to reduce crime while reducing the police force by more than 6,000 positions. Mayor Michael Bloomberg insisted amid protests by the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association that the force hadn’t been stretched too thin. It occurs to us, however, that with that great a reduction, it would have been difficult to pull cops from their regular assignments to do in-service training to polish skills they were taught in the Police Academy and compensate for any deficits in their original training.
That is something Mr. Bratton should be striving to correct as the NYPD adds to the uniformed ranks this fiscal year for the first time since the turn of the century. We’re past the point where “lack of training” is a costly indictment of the NYPD in fatal incidents.