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NYPD orders retraining in wake of fatal friendly fire cop shooting, officials say

NYPD officials on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019 released video showing nine unidentified men sought for questioning in a shooting incident on Sept. 26 in the vicinity of the Edenwald Houses in the Bronx, three days before Officer Brian Mulkeen was killed. Police said that incident was the reason why Mulkeen and his partners were on patrol early Sunday.  Credit: NYPD

The NYPD has ordered all members of its plainclothes anti-crime units to undergo firearms tactical training in teams using live fire drills and video simulators in the aftermath of Sunday's friendly-fire shooting that killed Officer Brian Mulkeen.

The new training initiative, which will begin next week, is designed to get police officers in the units familiar with how their partners would respond in a shooting situation. Officers will be tasked with reacting to a simulated shooting scenario projected on a video screen.

The live-fire drills will take place at the NYPD shooting range in Rodman’s Neck in the Bronx  with training on video simulators done at special tactical training centers set up in the five boroughs, officials said.

“All anti-crime teams are going to be mandated to attend enhanced tactical training and attend as a team,” NYPD spokeswoman Devora Kaye said in a statement.

There are about 100 anti-crime units across the city, each comprised of an average of six officers tasked with tackling serious violent crime and weapons, officials said.

Thursday's announcement of the new training comes four days after Mulkeen was killed by what police brass determined was friendly fire during a violent early morning struggle with an armed suspect in the Bronx. Mulkeen was the second NYPD officer this year to die by friendly fire. 

In February, NYPD Det. Brian Simonsen, 42, of Calverton, died after he was hit by friendly fire while responding with other officers to a Queens robbery.

The Rodman’s Neck complex is the NYPD's main tactical training facility and incorporates a two-dimensional video system in which cops are shown various tactical situations and taught how to react to them. The borough training centers, the first one of which opened this week in the 111 Precinct in Queens, will also use video simulator technology.

 Another element of training began in July and puts officers through what Kaye described as a “tactical combat course” in which individual officers use live ammunition in day and night time. Officers go though the combat course to learn about mitigating crossfire, using cover and communicating with other cops, Kaye said.

The two friendly fire deaths this year made a renewed effort at tactical training a high priority within the NYPD. Some retired cops noted that while each shooting case can be unique, a friendly fire death of an officer is particularly wrenching. Mulkeen’s funeral will take place Friday in his former hometown of Monroe, N.Y.

The veteran officer died after being struck in the head and torso by two bullets fired from a group of five other anti-crime unit officers as he violently struggled on the ground with Antonio Williams, 27. Williams was shot to death by officers.

Mulkeen and the other officers were on patrol near the Edenwald Housing, a public housing complex in the Edenwald section of the Bronx, when they encountered Williams, armed with a .32 caliber revolver investigators recovered at the scene, police said. 

Three nights before Mulkeen died, a gunshot-locator activation — indicating gunfire — had alerted the NYPD to a shooting in the area of the public housing complex. This past Wednesday, the NYPD released two videos of nine men wanted for questioning the Sept. 26 shooting. Two of the men shown in the videos appeared to have firearms and one was seen firing. There were no known injuries in the shooting, police said.

Earlier this week NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill said Mulkeen kept his weapon throughout the struggle with Williams and discharged it five times although it was unclear if any gunfire hit Williams. The city medical examiner said Williams died of multiple gunshot wounds.

O'Neill said 15 rounds — including the five fired by Mulkeen — were discharged in a span of 10 seconds. He noted that police are still in the early stages of the investigation and there will be a review of body camera footage recorded by five of the officers, O'Neill said. Mulkeen didn’t have a chance to activate his camera, the commissioner said.

Experts hope additional and improved training will rid the department of friendly-fire shootings.

“Two is too many,” said Keith Ross, an adjunct professor at Manhattan's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, of the friendly-fire deaths. “But on the other hand, we have to understand police officers are human and subjected to all [kinds] of stresses.”

Ross said the Rodman’s Neck video instruction, known as “firearms training system” or FATS, is a “great machine” but underutilized in favor of officers going through computer webinars on tactics.

For combat scenarios, Ross said, the FATS system is better because it provides more hands-on training for cops by simulating real life events. Other former NYPD officers and officials agreed that combat simulations are better because they raise adrenaline levels and bring the training closer to real life.

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