The New York Civil Liberties Union today called on New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and his successor, Andrew Cuomo, to launch an independent investigation of the New York City Police Department policies that bear on the incident in NYPD officers fired 50 shots into an unarmed man, Sean Bell this Saturday.

"Of course the NYPD must conduct an internal investigation of these tragic events," said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. "But that is not enough. We need an independent investigation into both what went wrong on Saturday and the NYPD policies implicated in it and other incidents like it."

Although Queens District Attorney Richard Brown is reviewing the shooting for presentation to a grand jury, that effort will focus on the potential criminal culpability of the officers involved rather than on broader policy issues, the NYCLU said. Given precedent – the Attorney General's Office undertook a sweeping and influential investigation following the shooting of Amadou Diallo, and it investigated reports of racial profiling and police abuse by the NYPD's Street Crimes Unit under the Giuliani Administration – the Attorney General's Office should initiate the investigation into this incident.

In its letter to Spitzer and Cuomo, the NYCLU identified three areas of inquiry upon which an investigation by the Attorney General's office must focus:

 

  • Firstly, the letter said, the excessive number of shots fired in this incident and in other recent incidents necessitates inquiry into the training and supervision officers receive regarding the use of weapons that fire many rounds quickly. Internal NYPD figures contained in the NYPD Firearms Discharge Report, the letter noted, show a 40% increase since 2004 in the number of shots fired by officers in incidents in which only the officers fired a weapon.
  • Secondly, the investigation must determine whether the NYPD is making efforts to ensure that its plainclothes officers fully identify themselves before initiating law-enforcement action.
  • Thirdly, the investigation must bring to light more information regarding when and why NYPD officers handcuff individuals who have been seriously wounded.

Click here to read the NYCLU's letter.