NYPD undercover cops frequently mistaken for suspects
NEW YORK — Nearly 1 in 6 undercover officers in the nation's largest police department has been mistaken for a criminal by fellow officers - and has come face-to-face with a loaded gun.
In most of those instances, the undercover officer remained motionless, followed the orders of the uniformed cop and the situation was defused. There have been only 10 instances since 1930 where officers were killed by fellow cops.
The most recent, the shooting death of Omar Edwards on May 28, spawned a comprehensive review by the department. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly wrote a letter to Gov. David Paterson detailing a 14-point plan to address the issue. Kelly spoke about the letter Tuesday.
The inquiry provides a rare look into the dangers of undercover policing in New York. More than 200 undercover officers were surveyed by the department, and 36 reported they were in gunpoint confrontations with other officers.
"In many instances, they're trying to look as if they're criminals. ... They're buying drugs, they're buying guns," Kelly said Tuesday.
In Edwards' case, he was in plainclothes, having just come from working a shift, and thought someone was breaking into his car, so he took off running with his service weapon in hand. Officer Andrew Dunton and two other uniformed cops mistook Edwards for a criminal and shot him to death.
Dunton and the other two officers were white; Edwards was black. A grand jury did not indict Dunton in the shooting.
Kelly's report outlines an attempt to reach out to fraternal organizations to create a list of suggestions to avoid such encounters.
"We have new training in place. We have officers that work in plain clothes go to roll call so that officers in uniform can identify officers in plain clothes," Kelly said.
The department has also called on Joshua Cornell, a University of Chicago professor who has conducted research on racial bias in officers' shooting decisions, to study NYPD police recruits and to develop new training accordingly.
Officers are using a new shield case that has a luminescent strap on it so it's easier to see in the dark. Also, new instructional videos were developed, and officers were retrained in the days after the shooting.
Gov. David Paterson formed a task force in June to examine confrontations between on and off-duty officers and determine what role, if any, race played. The task force meets again Thursday.
Edwards, 28, was posthumously promoted after his death. His family has expressed outrage over the shooting.