Suit Seeks Police Data on Race of People Shot by City Officers
By Al Baker
August 5, 2008
The New York Police Department recently released 11 years of statistics on every bullet fired by its officers, including the reason for each shooting, the number of shots fired and how many bullets hit their target. But the reports stopped mentioning the race of the people shot after 1997 without saying why. Testimony by a former police chief now offers an explanation. The former chief, Louis R. Anemone, said that while the data on people killed by officers were being compiled in 1998, the police commissioner, Howard Safir, ordered the department not to include the race of those killed by officers.
The testimony by Mr. Anemone, a former chief of department, did not say why Mr. Safir made his decision, but the shift appeared to have occurred during a public furor over race and the police’s use of deadly force in the shooting of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed West African immigrant, in February 1999. Mr. Diallo was killed in a barrage of 41 police bullets in the Bronx.
Mr. Anemone’s statements were submitted with a lawsuit filed on Monday by the New York Civil Liberties Union seeking access to the data on race. The group first sought the data after undercover detectives fired 50 bullets at a car in Queens in November 2006, killing its driver, Sean Bell, and wounding two of his friends. Like Mr. Diallo, Mr. Bell was black.Mr. Safir, who was appointed commissioner in 1996 and resigned in 2000, did not respond to telephone or e-mail messages on Monday. An assistant to Mr. Safir, now the chairman of a security and investigative firm, SafirRosetti, said that he was traveling in Europe and that he had not responded to her message sent to his BlackBerry.
Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, said in an e-mail message that the “race of suspects shot by the police generally comports with the race of shooting suspects.” When asked why the department continued to omit the data on race from its annual firearms reports, he wrote, “They are internal tactical reports that focus on tactical considerations, such as lighting, weapons, distance between suspect(s) and officer(s), and not race.” After the department denied the civil liberties group’s Freedom of Information Law request, the group sued the department on Monday in State Supreme Court in Manhattan. “I don’t think there is any reasonable claim that the race of shooting victims is irrelevant,” said Christopher T. Dunn, the associate legal director of the civil liberties group. “It certainly is not something that the N.Y.P.D. should be hiding from the public, but that is exactly what they are doing. In a city where there have been lots of concerns about blacks being shot, I think this is information that needs to come out.”
The Police Department has said that the information on race is embedded in individual police reports on separate shootings that are “exempt from disclosure” because they are preliminary, include witnesses’ statements and are prepared as part of continuing inquiries, among other reasons. As a practical matter, police officials who brief the news media after police shootings routinely disclose the race of those shot. The reports for 1996 and 1997 include the race of both the officer and the person who was shot. Those reports said that, adding up the two years, 89.4 percent of those shot by the police were black or Hispanic.
The 1998 report was the first to omit the data on race. Mr. Anemone was the department’s top uniformed officer from January 1995 until his retirement in July 1999. He later became security director of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. After he accused authority officials of impeding a corruption inquiry, the authority’s inspector general accused Mr. Anemone of fabricating a confidential source. Mr. Anemone denied the charge, but was fired.
In October 2004, while Mr. Anemone was being deposed for a civil suit in which he was named as a defendant, he testified that he could not provide certain information about the race of suspects killed by the police. He testified that it was because Mr. Safir had asked him to remove it from a copy of the 1998 firearms-discharge report that was specially prepared for the police commissioner. While Mr. Anemone’s testimony referred to the version prepared for the commissioner, the change in policy apparently was also applied to the annual reports the department releases to the public.
Mr. Anemone testified that he did not agree with Mr. Safir’s decision to remove the data on race because it was too important, a view he reiterated in an interview on Monday. Although he could not say what motivated Mr. Safir’s decision, he said that work on the 1998 report was completed in the spring of 1999, “subsequent to the Amadou Diallo shooting.”