Tri-Level Commission Completes Testimony
New York State Senate Democratic Leader Malcolm A. Smith and elected officials from the city, state, and federal governments today convened the fifth and final Tri-level Task Force hearing on police reform.
The series of hearings followed the tragic shooting of Sean Bell and the wounding of Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield by NYC undercover police officers on November 25, 2006. Sessions have been hosted throughout the five boroughs of New York City, with testimony from more than one hundred individuals, including experts on police procedures, civil rights advocates, and victims.
Among those who have offered testimony throughout the series of hearings were Nicole Paultre-Bell, fiancé of the late Sean Bell and her lawyer Sanford Rubenstein, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, Reverend Dr. Herbert Daughtry, Senior Pastor, House of the Lord Church; Norman Siegel, Civil Rights Attorney, Anthony Miranda, from National Latino Officer Association, and Hazel N. Dukes, NYS President of the NAACP.
"The tragic outcomes of recent encounters between our police force and civilians - including the death of two mentally challenged individuals -- tell us that besides being justifiably rattled by these unfortunate events, we have the responsibility to help our police force come up with better alternatives than the use of deadly force under certain circumstances," said Smith.
According to Smith, the purpose of the hearings is to make recommendations for possible legislative action at multiple levels of government. "Our hope is to offer guidelines that help prevent incidents like this from ever occurring again, while guaranteeing a swift and appropriate response in the event that the system were to fail us again," said Smith.
"We must do all we can to regain the public's trust and confidence in its police force by providing answers for what exactly went wrong that tragic night in November. I am confident our series of hearings will help us come up with proposals on how to improve police procedures to avert tragedies like the Bell tragedy and too many others."
Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum said, "Here's the reality: we know that problems exist. We saw them first-hand in the tragic death of Sean Bell. And we hear it every time we listen to community members. These forums give us another opportunity to come together and find ways to strengthen community police relations. This way we don't forget about Sean. But rather, he becomes a light that guides us toward preventing such tragedies in the future. I know that together we can build a stronger system where everyone can work together."
"Effective community policing depends on neighborhood residents being able to trust both the training and actions of local law enforcement. These meetings are an important step in ensuring that the city's low crime rate does not come at the expense of our civil liberties and common sense," said Congressman Charles B. Rangel.
Congressman Gregory W. Meeks said, "The Tri-Level Task Force proved that federal, state, and municipal elected officials from the communities most affected by the excessive use of force by the police, particularly deadly force, could come together and diligently, as well as systematically, probe this issue and on the basis of expert testimony, community input, and victims' accounts, develop an agenda of legislative remedies. The hearings have been thorough and fair. The recommendations of the task force will be forthcoming.
"It is my hope that the work done so far will be regarded as the beginning, not the end, of the joint effort of elected officials on all levels of government who are concerned with police excessive use of force and other abuses of police power to impose accountability on the NYPD and bring about the truly equal administration of justice."
The Task Force includes Senate Democratic Leader Malcolm A. Smith, U.S. Congressmen Charles Rangel, Gregory W. Meeks, NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn, NYC Comptroller Bill Thompson, NYC Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, NYS Senators Shirley Huntley, Eric Adams, NYS Assembly Members Vivian Cook, Ruben Diaz, Jr. and other elected officials from the City, State and Federal Government.
"Most of our City's police officers are professionals of exceptional ability and judgment," said Smith, "but even the most capable among them have the capacity to err under certain circumstances. Our goal is to see if changes to police policies might protect both police officers and the community from future tragedies."