Friday, December 01, 2006

NYPD: Perspective

Clyde Haberman's essay in today's New York Times is the best single piece I've seen on the Sean Bell killing in New York. There are certainly a lot of questions to be asked about those 50 shots the police pumped into Bell, his friends and his car the day he was due to get married. But very little coverage looks at the crimes that precipitated the intensified undercover work at many bars and dives around NYC, even though the savage killings of 24-year-old Imette St. Guillen after clubbing in SoHo in February and 18-year-old Jennifer Moore in July dominated the tabloid headlines at the time. Even less attention has been paid to the dangers faced by the undercover officers on the ground. That's where Haberman focused his attention:

"... meanwhile, in Brooklyn, some attention turned to cops who lost life, not cops who took life.

This is happening in a federal courtroom where a Staten Island man with an expressionless face is on trial for his life, charged with shooting two undercover police detectives in the back of the head. He in effect executed them, it is charged, for the effrontery of trying to rid the streets of illegal guns.

These two events would seem unrelated. But they are two faces of the same New York story. Both involve police undercover work that went disastrously wrong, although in different ways.

The very nature of this work can lead to nightmarish situations because, by definition, undercover officers are supposed to melt into their surroundings. Snap decisions — when to back off, when to make arrests, certainly when to shoot — are rarely uncomplicated or without peril.

In the case before the Brooklyn jury, the murdered detectives pretended one night in March 2003 that they were interested in buying a gun. As part of this pretense, according to the charges, they sat up front in a car, acting as if they had a bond with two men in the back seat.

This was a mistake. It allowed one of the men in the back to fire at them, point-blank.

They paid with their lives, Detectives James V. Nemorin, 36, and Rodney J. Andrews, 34 — they with five children between them..."

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