THE BLOG
07/31/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Fear And Friendly Fire

I am sure the police officer who shot Omar Edwards on the streets of Harlem did not intend to kill an innocent man, black or white - let alone a fellow officer.

He shot his victim out of fear.

Fear has been the accepted justification for such shootings. The officers responsible for the death of Amado Diallo - unarmed but target of 41 rounds - were acquitted after they testified that they believed they saw a gun and feared for their lives.

Edwards, in plainclothes, was running after a man who had broken into his car, his gun drawn. The other cops, themselves in plainclothes, shouted some kind of warning. Then they fired. That's all that's completely clear, although at least one of the cops said Edwards turned toward them while he was still holding the gun, creating that well-known fear.

The question is - what is the basis for this "fear" that so often seems to lead to white cops shooting black men who are either unarmed or a member of the same police force?

Word has it that Commissioner Ray Kelly is bringing in an outside shrink to analyze the problem. He needn't bother. The problem lies in the way young officers are trained, and the "us against them" code that makes cops appear to have been drafted from an alien planet instead of the New York neighborhoods that weaned them.

The Edwards killing was far from the first time that plainclothes cops shot another plainclothes cop. The current methods officers are supposed to use to identify themselves in these situations go back to the late James Fyfe, a former Deputy Training Commissioner and alleged expert on the use of force.

This desk jockey's doctoral dissertation was the basis of a department decision to forbid officers from firing warning shots when they are in pursuit of someone they believe might be armed. Fyfe's amazing conclusion was that it would be better to simply shout "Police, don't move." If the suspect was actually a plainclothes or off-duty officer like Edwards, he was supposed to shout back: "I'm on the job."

In my years on the force, I never heard anyone say: "Police, don't move!" (I've heard "Freeze mother ____," and that seemed to work quite well.)

In his later years, Fyfe spent a lot of time testifying in trials that involved police shootings. He testified 40 times against Philadelphia police. He testified in a Rhode Island federal civil rights trial for a mother whose son, an off-duty sergeant, was shot dead by fellow officers as he tried to break up a fight.

In that case, Fyfe said that Providence police brass had failed to train their officers on how to prevent friendly fire. "Mistakes are most likely to happen when officers are not well trained and these officers were not well trained," he testified.

Well said.

Oddly, Fyfe never, to my knowledge, ever testified against New York City cops. And he was a defense witness for the four officers in the Diallo case.

I'm not impartial when it comes to Fyfe's judgment - the basis of so much of the current police department training. Fyfe is credited with covering up the facts involving the events that led up to my being shot in a bungled "buy and bust" narcotics operation. The details of that are chronicled in his book, which is required reading in law schools and dedicated to former Police Commissioner Patrick V. Murphy.

The very man who put me in harm's way.

Go figure.