By Tom Hays
NEW YORK — A city police officer mistakenly killed by friendly fire was remembered Thursday as a consummate cop and loving father, a conscientious and driven young man who dreamed of joining the department his whole life.
Thousands of officers in crisp dress uniforms lined up five-deep for blocks outside the Brooklyn funeral for Omar J. Edwards, 25, killed a week ago as he was leaving his tour at a Harlem housing bureau. In his street clothes, he chased a man who had broken into his car down a dark, rains-slicked street. Plainclothes officers patrolling nearby noticed the pair and ordered them to halt. When Edwards turned toward them with his gun out, one of the officers shot him.
In his eulogy, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly extended his condolences to Edwards' parents; his wife, Danielle; and their two children, 18-month-old Xavier and 7-month-old Keanu.
"The crime set in motion a tragic chain of events which we are doing everything in our power to understand," Kelly said. "We owe Omar's family our deepest sympathy, our everlasting loyalty."
Edwards is being posthumously promoted to detective, which means his family will get more death benefits.
Even as child, Edwards wanted to be in the police department. At age 10, he was a member of the 73rd Precinct's Youth Council. "When he heard the sound of an officer's radio, he'd listen in and ask what all the codes meant," Kelly said.
He was a curious, steady and attentive student who thrived in the police academy. As an officer, he rooted out drugs and gained the trust of young men and women, Kelly said. His compassion and dedication was noticed: The supervisor on his first evaluation have him high marks for judgment, integrity and compassion.
"Even when making an arrest, he'd encourage suspects to turn their lives around," Kelly said.
Edwards was also an athlete: He signed up for bicycle patrol and played on the NYPD's football team.
And he was a loving father and son. When officers opened his locker last week after his death, they found a photo tucked into his police cap showing his son on the day he was born, Kelly said.
"By all accounts, life as a police officer was everything Omar hoped it would be. Between work and fatherhood, he was living out a lifelong dream," Kelly said.
Edwards was assigned to the Harlem housing bureau as part of a select roving unit of newer officers sent to certain areas for extra help.
Joanne Jaffe, who oversees the police department's housing bureau, described him as a dedicated, hardworking police officer. "He was the epitome of a professional, mature police officer," she said.
On Thursday, special spots were reserved along the tree-lined street his fellow housing police officers and the football team. Officers, including New Jersey state troopers and Nassau County police officers, stood at attention on both sides of the street near Our Lady of Victory Roman Catholic Church for about 10 blocks.
A police motorcycle escort, followed by procession of bagpipes lead the casket and family members in the church.
NYPD officers were still struggling to make sense of the killing. Edwards' partner, Officer Michael Muskin, said that when he heard that Edwards was dead, "I couldn't believe it. To find that out was heartbreaking."
The officer who fired at Edwards, Andrew Dunton, and two other officers have been placed on administrative duty as the department investigates.
At the funeral mass, the Rev. Paul Jervis said Dunton needs their prayers. "He too needs our compassion," he said.
Edwards was black; the three other officers were white. Several leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton and U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, believe race is a factor in his death. Gov. David Paterson called for a thorough investigation but stopped short of saying race was a factor, adding that the shooting was not deliberate.
In the week since the shooting, the NYPD has revamped its training on confrontations with other officers, and said on-the-job training in June would cover confrontations. Kelly, Paterson and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have canvassed the community, offering condolences and listening to residents' fears.
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"I promise you we will do everything possible to learn from this tragedy," Bloomberg told mourners.