The NYPD’s Post-Sean Bell Firearms Study Ignores Race; RAND is Sorry


Six weeks after Sean Bell, an unarmed black man, was shot to death in a 50-shot fusillade of police bullets in the fall of 2006, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly held a press conference to announce he was hiring RAND Corp. to undertake an assessment of the NYPD’s weapons use and firearm training procedures.

Because of the timing of the announcement, it was assumed in the media the next day that the study would include a look at the racial breakdown of victims and the police shooters in the hopes of either proving or putting to bed a belief widely held in minority communities that blacks and Latinos are disproportionately the targets of police bullets.

Today, a year and a half after that presser, Kelly again trotted out a lead member of the “think tank” organization to offer RAND’s findings. (FYI, the fact that it was done on a Monday morning instead of Friday evening was the tip off that the “news” would be to Kelly’s liking.)

Dr. Bernard Rostker, a former Deputy Secretary of Defense who did the talking for RAND, explained how they reviewed 455 police shooting investigations closed by the department between 2004 and 2006. The gist of his overall message was that the statistics show that NYPD officers are among the most restrained cops in the nation when it comes to shooting their guns. He also spent a lot of time talking about Tasers, even though he said they’re more substitutes for fists than firearms.
What Rostker and the $350,000 RAND study didn’t address was race — either of the victims or the police shooters.

When questioned by this Voice reporter about why race wasn’t a component of their study, especially given the proximity of the Bell shooting and the announcement they’d be studying NYPD firearms issues, Rostker admitted “it was not posed to us.” In other words, the NYPD didn’t want them to touch it.

He stammered that a “casual” look at the data suggested that the police officers invovled in shootings roughly followed the ethnic populations of the department.

As for they victims? Nada. Though the NYCLU and other civic rights organization would give their eye teeth for such victim data, RAND didn’t go there.

“The point is well taken,” Rostker conceded at the presser. “I would say it was an oversight. Sorry about that.”