That Sean Bell died at the hands of a NYPD officer in a mistaken shooting is tragic, and that is regretted by all involved is undisputable. The case has become the latest cause celebre for a host of (self?) interested parties to promote their own agendas, turning a tragedy into a political platform.What happened is the business of the judge (it’s a bench trial, not a jury trial), but what happened should give us all — particularly the NYPD — cause for concern and investigation. One officer conducting a bad shoot is an accident; two is a coincidence. Five, however, demonstrates a systematic problem.
Sean Bell died from one of thirty-one bullets fired by a NYPD officer. Thirty-one shots, of which only a handful were anywhere near on target. There was not one crime here but two. The first was the unnecessary death of an innocent human being; the second was the inaccuracy of the pistol fire by all of the officers concerned.
Rounds landed on walls, trucks, the street, all presumptive evidence of a lack of accurate fire; from the opposite perspective, no bystanders were injured, suggesting that either the officers were lucky, or that at least they were conscious of the background when they were firing, and didn’t fire if there was the chance of hitting the wrong person.
There has been no convincing comment on changes to either the training or the standard operational procedures of the NYPD, which suggests that the NYPD and the City are content to deal with the issue as one of personal culpability rather than a systematic problem.
Any organisation unwilling to investigate a systematic problem and rectify it, be that organisation a corporation, a police department or another government entity, is setting itself up for further embarrassment from failure to learn from mistakes. If the systematic failure in the training — whether it too infrequent training, training that is not comprehensive, or something else — is not uncovered and rectified, then the same problem may happen again. I understand that the NYPD may be reluctant to expose its flaws, but if the officers’ actions resulted from a failure in the system rather than a failure in themselves, it should be identified and publicly rectified, if only to restore faith in the Department’s ability to police itself.