Police Commissioner Bill Bratton was supposed to be in Washington Wednesday. More than a hundred police chiefs and top prosecutors gathered to call for criminal justice reform -- including an end to mass and unnecessary incarceration. The organizers decried a system that "wastes taxpayer dollars, damages families, and divides communities," and does not reduce crime.

Bratton is one of the group's founders. But he didn't make the news conference addressing the longstanding problems because he had more urgent business.

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NYPD Officer Randolph Holder, 33, was killed in a gunfight with a career criminal Tuesday night in East Harlem. Holder was responding to a shots-fired call. In the fundamental description of his chosen profession, Holder ran toward danger. On the force for five years and a resident of Far Rockaway, Holder was an immigrant from Guyana, where his father and grandfather were police officers.

The suspect, Tyrone Howard, was a wanted man, known to the police since he was 13, when he was charged with a drug offense. His rap sheet grew from there. Last year, he was arrested along with other members of a violent drug crew and ordered into a court-mandated drug diversionary program. He dropped out. Lately, he was wanted in connection with a shooting in September.

Holder's death didn't change Bratton's mind about what needs to be done. The commissioner repeated his commitment to ending the cycle of nonviolent and low-level offenders entering the criminal justice system, some later becoming "hardened, violent criminals," much like the man accused of taking down Holder.

Wednesday, Bratton and the mayor were outraged that this particular offender was let back on the streets -- and that this officer was shot dead.

Such are the contradictions of policing in NYC. On a day that might have been devoted to systemic reform of a troubled system, the city was reminded that some criminals refuse second chances, and that police work remains dangerous. The conference continued as scheduled in Washington, and in New York flags flew at half-staff.