Panel tackles excess force by police


A congressional committee Monday heard civil rights crusaders, academics and frustrated supporters of Sean Bell demand a massive overhaul of police departments in New York and nationwide to end deaths blamed on excessive force.

"This is not a New York matter anymore -- it is international," said Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which held a public forum on police accountability.

The committee, which has influence over federal funding of police departments, will recommend changes in police training, funding and policies to reduce instances of racial profiling and excessive force.

Like other such cases of deadly force, the 50-shot killing of Bell, 23, again has called police conduct into question. Last month's acquittal of the three undercover officers charged in the Nov. 25, 2006, death led to citywide protests calling for civil rights prosecution of the officers and police reform.

Leading the effort before the panel, the Rev. Al Sharpton criticized Police Commissioner Ray Kelly for not answering an invitation to the forum.

"They don't take you seriously," Sharpton told the panel. "They believe we'll have a forum, that you'll go back to Washington and nothing will happen."

A spokesman for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said neither Bloomberg nor Kelly attended the forum because of the ongoing federal and internal probe into the Bell case.

The reforms recommended by politicians, experts and community leaders included funding community-based boards with the power to hire and fire police; the creation of a permanent, statewide prosecutor to investigate police misconduct, and axing federal funding to law enforcement agencies that ineffectively address police misconduct.

Bell was killed and two friends were wounded by three undercover officers outside a strip club. State Supreme Court Justice Arthur J. Cooperman cleared the officers April 25.

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