The 25-year-old suspect was believed to be conning tourists along Broadway and 46th Street when he was recognized just before noon by a sergeant who runs a task force that monitors aggressive panhandling, chief NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said.
The officer approached and asked the suspect and another man for identification, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said. One of the men took off running into the streets and through the Marriott Marquis hotel's passenger drop-off area, Browne said.
The sergeant pursued, and the man turned and fired with a stolen Mac-10 machine pistol that held 30 rounds; he got off two shots before it jammed, police said. The officer fired four times, striking the suspect in the chest and arm and killing him, Kelly said.
Dave Kinmahan, a tourist from Boston, was parking his car in a spot below street level at the hotel when he saw one man shooting another.
"I was 20 yards away," Kinmahan said. He said he thought, "Is this real or this a movie?"
The hotel is located in the Broadway theater district and near the heart of Times Square. The area includes the Minskoff Theatre, home to the popular show "The Lion King," and bullets hit the theater, cracking box office and gift shop windows.
Dozens of police officers surrounded the popular hotel, taping off the valet parking area as tourists and shoppers stopped to watch the commotion. Kathleen Duffy, a spokeswoman for New York City Marriott Hotels, said the shooting took place in a taxi pickup and drop-off area.
The slain man was not immediately identified. Officers suspected him and his partner were working a scam in which they would approach tourists, ask them their names, then write their names on the CDs and demand payment of $10.
The suspect had been wanted for assault in the Bronx, but the officer approached him because he was recognized as an aggressive panhandler, authorities said. There were 27 live rounds left in his gun, which had been reported stolen in Virginia, authorities said.
Duncan Stewart, a Broadway casting director for National Artists Management Co., has a 12th-floor office that overlooks Times Square. He said he was on the phone when he heard three loud pops.
"With the echo, I didn't quite know what it was, but within five minutes, there were cars, police sirens, cops running," he said. "It was chaotic."
Stewart has worked in Times Square for the past three years. He's gotten used to seeing the weird and wacky, but almost never anything violent.
"It's bizarre. It's one thing to see the Naked Cowboy day after day in Times Square, but a shooting is something different altogether," he said.
New York City's crackdown on panhandling began under former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, when "zero-tolerance" policing was instituted to curb quality-of-life offenses. Panhandling, public drinking, public urinating, graffiti and disorderly conduct were all part of the crackdown as a way to bring order to the city by sending the message that no crime would be tolerated.
When Mayor Michael Bloomberg first took office in 2002, one of the first things he did was launch "Operation Clean Sweep," aimed at those same quality-of-life problems. By the end of Bloomberg's first term, the program had had resulted in some 33,000 arrests and 350,000 summonses.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has said the NYPD "will assert the public's right to be left alone by aggressively going after quality-of-life violators."