NYPD may change officer involved shooting policies

By Rocco Parascandola

NEW YORK Any police officer who fires his or her gun, on- or off-duty, and causes injury or death soon could be required to be tested for alcohol, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said yesterday in announcing a series of recommendations made by a New York Police Department panel formed after unarmed bridegroom Sean Bell was fatally shot in Queens on his wedding day.

Kelly was quick to stress that the undercover officers who were inside Jamaica's Club Kalua - where Bell, 23, had celebrated his bachelor party just before he was killed on a nearby street on Nov. 25 - "were found to be fit for duty."

But that determination, made by a duty captain at the scene, sparked criticism that without a proper medical analysis it would be easy for officers to escape punishment if indeed they drank beyond the two-drink maximum that the NYPD allows so undercover officers can more easily blend into their surroundings.

The recommendation, one of 19 the panel made, is expected to go into effect in September.

The recommendations are almost certain to come under scrutiny by the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, which had no comment yesterday.

The Detectives Endowment Association lashed out at the plan to test officers for alcohol.

"We will fight the constitutionality of it," DEA president Michael Palladino said.

Other key recommendations go to the heart of what police sources have described as a tactical breakdown the night Bell was killed and two of his friends were critically wounded.

After the shooting, sources told Newsday that Lt. Gary Napoli was caught flat-footed when Det. Gescard Isnora started following Bell and his friends, Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman, because he suspected Guzman was going to get a gun to settle an argument. No gun was ever found.

The recommendations include better training for supervisors of undercover operations.

The panel also recommended that officers in marked police cars be kept on standby. Guzman and Benefield, who were in Bell's car, both have said they thought the officers who confronted them and fired a total of 50 shots were trying to carjack or rob them. Bell, they have said, tried to drive off when Isnora approached his car because he did not know Isnora was a cop.

Police sources have said the officers identified themselves, but the sources also have said that if patrol officers had been made aware of the undercover operation beforehand their presence at the scene might have prevented the shooting.

Isnora and Det. Michael Oliver have been charged with manslaughter in Bell's death. Det. Marc Cooper is charged with reckless endangerment.

Staff writer Anthony M. DeStefano contributed to this story.


Some of the 19 recommendations from the special panel to review NYPD undercover procedures in the wake of the Sean Bell shooting.

Require a Breathalyzer test in all cases in which an officer is involved in a firearms discharge incident, on duty or off duty, which results in injury or death.

Provide periodic psychological screening and counseling for active undercover officers whose assignments are the most stressful in the NYPD and provide training for managing stress.

Enhance scenario-based training for undercovers through the use of professional actors.

Develop a community outreach program that educates the public about the risks, challenges and necessity of undercover operations.

Require tactical plans for undercover operations to include relevant information about the neighborhood in which the operation will take place.

Clarify NYPD procedures regarding the consumption of alcohol by undercover officers during operations - a limit of two drinks per tour - and provide training on ways to avoid drinking when pressured to do so by subjects.

Design a standard, readily identifiable, highly reflective jacket for officers' use when involved in plainclothes operations.

Copyright 2007 Newsday, Inc.

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