A family and residents in South Florida have a burning question they want answered: Why are police in North Miami using real-life mugshots of African-American male suspects as target practice? While some call the practice racial profiling, the department’s top-cop is defending the actions of his officers who used the booking photos for police training, citing a report from NBC Miami, which first broke the story.
On a Saturday last month, a reservist with the Florida National Guard visited a shooting range as part of their regular firearms training, and what they discovered was nothing less than shocking. Sergeant Valerie Deant was mortified when she found several images left behind by cops with the North Miami Beach Police Department. Not only were the six shooting targets all of black males, but one stood out among the rest: a photo of her brother.
North Miami police use faces of black men as targets http://t.co/800X8DREo7
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) January 16, 2015
Sgt. Deant found herself peering into the stoic eyes of her brother, whose 15-year-old mugshot was being used for target practice. The head-only image was riddled with bullet holes. Thoughts of racial profiling came to mind.
“I was like why is my brother being used for target practice? There were like gunshots there. And I cried a couple of times.”
Deant was so overcome with emotion, she had to be consoled by other members of her party at the gun range. At some point, she contacted her brother, Woody Deant, via telephone. The real-life photo was taken in 2000 when he was arrested and charged in connection to the deaths of two people who died during drag racing. The woman notified him of the shocking discovery. He expressed outrage that North Miami police officers were using his image and those of other black men as shooting targets.
— Russ Ptacek, WUSA9 (@RussPtacek) January 15, 2015
“The picture actually has like bullet holes. One in my forehead and one in my eye…. I was speechless. Now I’m being used as a target? I’m not even living that life according to how they portrayed me as. I’m a father. I’m a husband. I’m a career man. I work 9-to-5.”
Major Kathy Katerman, a spokesperson for the department, weighed in on the growing controversy and allegations of police profiling of minorities, particularly of blacks in the community. Katerman insists that the charges are distorted. She says the department utilizes “multiple lineups for target practice,” which adds to the realism in the community they serve.
“The public thinks there should be one woman and one white man and one black, but that’s not really what test is about. We have targets of all races.”
The department’s lead administrator, Chief Scott Dennis, acknowledged that “poor judgment” was used by his officers, but no discipline is forthcoming. That said, they consider the matter closed.
The Medley Firearms Training Center is owned by the city, which leases it to law enforcement for police training. However, the staff does not choose the targets. It’s a matter of departmental and officer choice in what targets are used.
Media sources spoke with a number of other law enforcement agencies in the state. Of the five spoken to, not one uses real-life booking photos of black suspects for shot training or weapons qualification. Many say they only utilize commercially-rendered images, not actual blown-up mugshots. Alex Vasquez, a retired FBI agent, weighed in on the racial profiling allegations.
“The use of those targets doesn’t seem correct. The police have different options for targets. I think the police have to be extra careful and sensitive to some issues that might be raised.”
Chief Dennis did go on record by pledging changes going forward in light of the allegations his department faces of racial profiling of African Americans. He said the use of real images will continue, but only after a thorough expansion takes place that excludes the use images of anyone booked into their local prison systems. Additionally, Dennis will order officers to remove silhouettes and real image targets upon completion.
Dennis said the police department uses an array of pictures, including that of whites and Hispanic males. What concerns his police department, he said, is that the picture was from someone who happened to be arrested by his agency.
To the Deants’ credit, many suggest that the intentional use of real mugshots for target practice by police presents a dangerous precedent that could have negative implications in incidents involving shoot-don’t-shoot scenarios.
The family contacted an attorney for possible legal action against the North Miami Beach Police Department. Lawyer Andell Brown finds the use of black suspect photos at target ranges offensive.
“This can create a very dangerous situation. And it has been ingrained in your subconscious what does that mean when someone [police] comes across Woody or another person on the street and their decision-making process on using deadly force or not.”
In Woody’s mind, he thinks he and others have suddenly become moving targets. Do you think the actions by police officers in South Florida amounts to racial profiling?
[Image via: SodaHead]