Commissioner Raymond Kelly said 25-year-old Omar J. Edwards died after being shot late Thursday by a officer within blocks of the Harlem police station where he worked.
The shooter was white and Edwards was black, a fact that could raise questions about police use of deadly force in a minority community. And in recent years there have been several cases of off-duty policemen in the New York City area being shot and killed by other officers.
Edwards had just finished his shift around 10:30 p.m. when he headed to his car and saw that the driver's-side window had been smashed and a man was going through the vehicle, Kelly said.
Edwards struggled with the man, who got away from him by slipping out of his sweater, Kelly said. Edwards chased the man up two streets with his gun drawn, he said.
A sergeant and two plainclothes officers in an unmarked police car saw the pursuit and made a U-turn to follow the men, Kelly said. One of the officers jumped out of the car and fired six times, hitting Edwards twice - once in the arm and once in the chest, he said.
Kelly said Edwards did not fire his weapon. He died at the Harlem Hospital Center about an hour after the shooting.
The Rev. Al Sharpton said he got calls shortly after the shooting "from black officers who were at the precinct and were alarmed by the shooting of Omar Edwards."
The civil rights activist said he and his National Action Network "are completely concerned of a growing pattern of black officers being killed with the assumption that they are the criminals."
"This calls for federal investigation and intervention to sort out the facts and bring about a just resolve," Sharpton said in a statement. "Can police investigate themselves fairly and impartially? It would seem very difficult at best and unlikely in fact."
It is still unclear whether the responding anti-crime unit officer, a four and a half year department veteran, identified himself as a police officer before firing, reports WCBS correspondent Jay Dow.
"While we don't know all the details of what happened tonight, this is a tragedy. Rest assured that we will find out exactly what happened here, and we will learn from it so it doesn't happen again," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a news conference from the hospital.
Kelly said Edwards had been on the force for two years and worked in the housing bureau. He was recently married and had two young children.
On Friday, police blanketed the shooting scene. A stretch of 125th Street, a major thoroughfare, was blocked off. People passing in cars and waiting for buses tried to get a glimpse beyond the yellow crime-scene tape; some asked each other what was going on.
The shooting recalled other cases of off-duty policemen being shot and killed by fellow officers.
In 2008, a black, off-duty Mount Vernon police officer was killed by a Westchester County policeman while holding a gun on an assault suspect in suburban White Plains. A grand jury found the victim had failed to identify himself as an officer. County officers - one white, one black and two Hispanic - were cleared of wrongdoing by a grand jury.
In 2006, a New York City police officer, Eric Hernandez, was shot and killed by an on-duty patrolman who was responding to an attack at a White Castle in the Bronx.