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Bell study urges cops use non-lethal force

Ever since Sean Bell was killed outside a Jamaica strip club in a hail of 50 police bullets, the southeast Queens community has urged government leaders to change their law enforcement tactics.

State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) and a group of city, state and federal leaders answered that call Sunday when they released the results of a year-and-a-half-long study into police tactics. The tri-level Legislative Task force proposed 15 recommendations to improve police tactics for the entire country.

"The report is the recognition for the need for a different kind of approach for justice," the senator told a City Hall press conference. "But understand this report is the recognition of the need for us to work together... to make this city safer."

Many of the recommendations call for laws that change police training and operations, such as one that asks for increased non-lethal tactics training and mandatory drug and alcohol testing of an officer after discharging his or her weapon.

"An emphasis should be placed on training with interactive real-life scenarios in which officers confront ethical dilemmas in deciding on level of force," the report said.

The task force also suggested that the Police Department "employ non-lethal alternatives" for its officers. Another legislative initiative would have the state attorney general create a independent jurisdiction to prosecute police officers charged with crimes to ensure that there is no conflict of interest.

"The legislation will restore public confidence in our legal system," the report said.

Five undercover officers opened fire at Bell and his two friends as they were leaving his bachelor party at the Kalua Cabaret on Nov. 26, 2006. The officers said they thought one of the three men had a gun, but no weapon was found.

Three of the officers, Detectives Gescard Isnora, Michael Oliver and Marc Cooper, were criminally charged, but a Queens Supreme Court judge exonerated them in April.

In 2007, Smith initiated the task force in the aftermath of the Bell shooting to come up with ways that all levels of the government could act together to prevent unnecessary police violence. The task force held several meetings and talked with different people and groups, including the city Police Benevolent Association and NAACP, about solutions for the problem.

"This report is not an anti-police report," said state Sen. Eric Adams (D-Brooklyn), who worked on the project. "We understand that we sit in the shade of public safety because of countless number of men and women in uniform who fought for that shade."

On Monday, the Rand Corp., an independent think tank, released a NYPD commissioned study on improving police tactics and firearm use and also made its own recommendations.

The Rev. Al Sharpton and Bell's fiancée, Nicole Paultre-Bell, praised the task force for coming up with sound solutions and urged leaders to put them to good use.

"We don't want symbolism and call that 'change.' We want substantive change," Sharpton said.

Smith, joined by a number of New York leaders, including U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) and City Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis), said he was confident that the various governing bodies would take the report and make changes.

He noted that the NYPD has already implemented a policy on alcohol testing of officers who fire their guns in the wake of Bell's death.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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