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When Cops Don't Shoot By: Michael Goodwin
NY Daily News | Thursday, February 03, 2005


Many New York police officers say they make a clear-cut calculation about the life-or-death decisions they face: I'd rather be judged by 12 than carried by six.

Whether cops should shoot and take their chances with a jury or wait and hope the suspect doesn't fire first is a dilemma that has become key to the history of the parolee charged in last week's slaying of a young actress. It turns out that Rudy Fleming, a not-so-tender 19, is still alive only because four brave cops took the chance he wouldn't use his gun in a 2001 confrontation.

Had they shot him, Nicole duFresne might be alive today.

But everybody walked away from that earlier faceoff, including Fleming, because cops showed remarkable restraint.

Of course, we never heard of that case until now. Police restraint doesn't usually get a headline, certainly not one as big as when cops pull the trigger, even when they are justified. And from what we know now, they would have been justified in shooting Fleming three years ago.

According to prosecutors, Fleming was a 16-year-old student when school safety officers took him to a truancy center on Nov. 27, 2001. But he was no Sweet 16. Months earlier, he reportedly had been arrested on many counts of selling cocaine.

It's unlikely the officers who picked him up knew of his record, since he was given "youthful offender" status, which usually means the case is sealed, he gets a slap on the wrist and is sent back to the streets to try his luck again.

So there he was in November 2001, picked up for playing hooky. But this time he was armed, and very dangerous, as he proved by drawing his .380 semiautomatic pistol and getting into a shooting crouch.

Documents say four police officers stationed in the truancy center drew their own guns and confronted Fleming. We can guess what numbers raced through their minds - four of us, one of him, 12 jurors, six pallbearers. Which is it?

Or maybe they were thinking of other police shootings and the red-hot racial demonstrations that followed. This was only 2-1/2 years after cops fired 41 shots at Amadou Diallo, believing his wallet was a gun. And only 18 months since an unarmed Patrick Dorismond was gunned down by an undercover cop.

Or maybe, since this was just 10 weeks after 9/11, the cops that day had seen enough death, so they took a chance on life.

I think something else also was at work in that moment of high drama at the truancy center - good police training.

The remarkable success of the NYPD in reducing crime has been well celebrated, but one key part is little understood and less appreciated - how good cops became at doing their jobs without firing their guns.

Let's go to the stats: In 1991, when David Dinkins was mayor, police shot 109 people, 27 fatally. In 1994, under Rudy Giuliani, they shot 98 people, 32 fatally, including two bystanders.

That's when the NYPD got serious about finding a way not just to shoot accurately, but to shoot less. I saw firsthand how difficult that was when I took part in drills at the Rodmans Neck training facility. As journalists donned helmets, vests and paint-ball guns to play cops, commanders watched from above as we responded to a "burglary" in a cramped apartment hall.

The pretend perp pulled his gun, I fired mine, the perp fired his - and my partner, another journalist, shot me in the arm. Even paint balls hurt.

The effects of such training on the department were dramatic. Even as the size of the NYPD grew, the number of suspects shot by officers fell consistently. By 2001, restraint was thoroughly ingrained. In that year, cops shot just 29 people, 11 fatally.

Rudy Fleming was not one of them.




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