Black and Latino officers with the Prince George’s County Police Department have filed a complaint against the agency for alleged racial epithets that included photos of a training dummy depicted as a black man.
The complaint, sent to the Justice Department in October, also includes photos of a license plate from an officer’s personal vehicle with the letters “GFYOBMA,” a seemingly crude reference to former President Obama.
“If you have this hanging over you, you are not going to be effective protecting the public,” said Police Chief Hank Stawinski, who spoke about the photos at a news conference Thursday. “I am going to do what I want to do and that is make Prince George’s County safe. I [must] have a workforce of 2,000 people who don’t have these issues clouding our mission. For that purpose alone, this can’t be tolerated.”
Stawinki said he wasn’t made aware of the anti-Obama license plate until last year, but it was removed from the sergeant’s vehicle within 72 hours after he learned of it.
Stawinski said that although every citizen has a right to free speech under the First Amendment, such a statement on a police officer’s property sent the wrong message to the department. He said he was told the letters stood for “good for you Obama,” but he rejected that notion.
In the photos of the dummy, located at a department training facility, a picture of a black man’s face has been affixed to the dummy, and a wig sits at its feet. The words “Afro wig” and “black face” are scrawled on the photo.
The writing on the photo doesn’t point out a white face mask also sitting at the mannequin’s feet, which can be placed on the dummy, Stawinski said.
As for the wig, which Stawinski described as a “black, curly-haired wig,” the chief said a black officer actually brought it in for training purposes to handle situations in the field such as domestic violence.
The department investigated another racial situation this week that involved a “color guard” label on a locker with the word “color” crossed out and replaced with “African American.” Stawinski said an officer saw it and followed proper protocol by reporting it within 72 hours.
The department and police union announced last week the creation of a panel to examine all agency practices, promotion processes and discipline patterns. It wasn’t created based on the complaint, Stawinski said.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, the Prince George’s NAACP and officers who filed the complaint met Wednesday with the Justice Department’s Civil Division.
Because the Justice Department is in charge of the investigation, NAACP President Bob Reiss declined to comment.
Stawinski said the department continues to wait for information from the Justice Department regarding the complaint, but “we have received nothing.”
The normally calm and level-headed Stawinski showed some frustration over the situation, but wanted to ensure the county’s nearly one million residents that safety remains the department’s top priority.
“I want the community to understand that we work tirelessly to produce safety and protect them,” he said. “Police officers have a stressful and demanding job. I can’t tolerate anything that takes their mind off the dangerous job they have to do. This is personally offensive to me.”