Since 1981, some 26 police officers across the United States have been shot and killed by fellow police officers who have mistaken them for dangerous criminals. These fatal shootings are doubly tragic, first because both the shooters and victims in such situations are risking their lives to enforce the law and protect the public, and second because many of these deaths are preventable. The dangers that give rise to these deaths are inherent in policing, but those dangers can be reduced and more deaths prevented. Over the last fifteen years, ten of the fourteen officers killed in these mistaken-identity, police-on-police shootings have been people of color. The two most recent of these fatal, police-on-police shootings took place in New York State, and in both cases the victims were off-duty, African-American police officers: Officer Christopher Ridley, killed in Westchester County in January 2008; and Officer Omar Edwards, killed in Harlem in May 2009. These two most recent tragedies reverberated powerfully, not only within the ranks of law enforcement but with the broader public. In press accounts, public debate, and informal conversations among police officers, we heard widespread speculation about the role that race may have played in these shootings, not based on any specific evidence of bias in these two cases, but emanating instead from the widely shared suspicion that race plays a role in many police confrontations, as it does in American society generally. In response, Governor David A. Paterson empanelled this Task Force, chaired by Christopher Stone, Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Professor of the Practice of Criminal Justice at Harvard Kennedy School, directing them to examine the issues and implications arising from police-on-police shootings and confrontations, especially between on-duty and off-duty officers, between uniformed and undercover officers, and between officers of different races, nationalities and ethnicities, seeking to prevent such incidents in the future. Their work offers many lessons, from methods to improve training and tactics to defuse police-on-police confrontations before they become fatal and improve the investigation of police-on-police shootings, to procedures that can improve the treatment of the officers and families involved. Equally important, their work offers a chance to better understand the role of race in policing decisions generally and to identify specific actions that police agencies and government at every level can take to reduce the effect of racial bias, even unconscious racial bias, in police decisions to shoot in fast-moving, dangerous situations.
Stone, Christopher, Zachary Carter, Thomas Belfiore, Ella M. Bully-Cummings, Rev. Dr. Herbert Daughtry, Michael J. Farrell, George Gascón, Arva Rice, Lew Rice, and Damon T. Hewitt. "Reducing Inherent Danger: Report of the New York State Task Force on Police-on-Police Shootings." New York State Task Force on Police-on-Police Shootings Report, May 27, 2010.