NMB Police Stops Using Photos for Target Practice | NBC 6 South Florida

NMB Police Stops Using Photos for Target Practice

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    NBC 6's Willard Shepard has the details as North Miami Beach Police officially changed its policy regarding target shooting with mugshots on the targets. (Published Monday, Jan. 19, 2015)

    A South Florida police department under fire for using real photos for target practice changed its policy just days after an NBC6 investigation uncovered the practice.

    Our investigation showed mug shots of six African American men riddled with bullets. They had been used by the North Miami Beach Police Department for weapons training for snipers. Chief J. Scott Dennis earlier said it was not racial profiling as they use photos of other races as part of the training.

    Nonetheless, Monday the department released the following statement that reads in part:

    "We are mindful that perceptions are often as important as reality. When this facial recognition sniper shooting drill was brought to our attention we immediately told the family that it would stop, we kept our word, and it has. It is no longer a practice of the North Miami Beach Police Department. This sort of mug shot drill has been suspended indefinitely and ceases to exist as part of our training. A policy change has been initiated and the new procedure will be that no one will be shooting photographic images in the future.

    We have fostered good relations with our community for decades, by providing excellence in policing and community involvement. We regret that this one incident could have set back the progress we have made. We will strive to be more sensitive to all and remain focused on being a community mind-ful police department. We see this challenge as an opportunity to examine all policies with in our police department. ."

    The mayor also called the practice unacceptable.

    Woody Deant, one of the men depicted in the array of mug shots spoke Monday in front of the North Miami Beach City Hall. He said, "I have had to live and relive seeing a bullet thru my forehead and a bullet thru my eye at the hands of the North Miami Beach Police Department. I have had to ease the fear of my wife, my mother, and my loved ones while working thru my own."

    Valerie Deant, who is with the National Guard, found the pictures when she went to the Medley shooting range for her weapons qualification training. She saw her brother’s image along with those of 5 others – all of them African American men.

    Monday, she spoke about the impact the images has had on her.

    "Since then my life has completely changed because I am in fear for my brother's life--my brother's safety where we reside in North Miami Beach," Valerie Deant said.

    Earlier, the Miami Beach Police Department had defended the practice and said they planned to continue it as it is an effective way to train snipers to recognize faces. Chief Dennis decided to change the policy after NBC 6 exposed the practice, which drew harsh criticism from civil rights leaders and the mayor, among others. But he also said the department needed to do whatever was necessary to ensure equality.

    "We must redouble our efforts to ensure that there is no aspect of our department's policies, procedures or practices that would indicate in any way shape or form that one group of people are going to be treated differently than another group of people," the chief said.

    Valerie Deant said the chief should have acted immediately – not in reaction to the public outcry.

    "To know that the North Miami Beach Police Department pretty much didn't stand down when this was presented to them and pretty much after the pressure came on is when they did it is very hurtful," she stated.

    Andell Brown is the Deant’s attorney.

    "I think the changes that have been made in stopping this procedure is a start. As far as moving forward and we are exploring all options. We are speaking to different members of the community. We are willing to speak to to those in police leadership as well as the Mayor of North Miami Beach, "Brown said.

    Henry Crespo, head of the state Democratic Black Caucas is concerned over the training's potential impact on the street. He said, "What is the psyche of individuals that are patrolling our streets and the quick reaction based just on coming from a target range."

    Crespo says the organization will also be looking at whether other police departments use actual photos in gun training. Chris Norwood, the spokesman for the organization said, "What we are trying to do is learn if this is a practice at other law enforcements agencies are also doing and we will be filing Chapter 119--public records request to learn that."

    Crespo said the caucus will demand that any other department’s using photos discard the practice.

    NBC 6 checked with several departments across the state, and with state and federal agencies, and could find no agency that uses photos for weapons training. The North Miami Beach Police chief said the photos were only used for snipers, not for any training in other departments. He also said that department used photos of Latinos and Caucasians.

    North Miami Beach Mayor George Vallejo issued a statement Sunday about the practice that read: “Using mug shots as targets is offensive and unacceptable. This practice has been halted, effective immediately, and I have called for legislation to ban it outright, along with a comprehensive review of our remaining procedures. North Miami Beach is better than this. We are a richly diverse city, a fact our residents are very proud of, and as Mayor I will not allow anything to disrupt the harmony and goodwill that exists in our community.”

    North Miami Beach Police also issued a statement Monday that addressed the controversy. It read:
    “On this important National Holiday where we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we too, recognize the need for fair and ethical treatment of all people. We are mindful that perceptions are often as important as reality.

    When this facial recognition sniper shooting drill was brought to our attention we immediately told the family that it would stop, we kept our word, and it has. It is no longer a practice of the North Miami Beach Police Department. This sort of mug shot drill has been suspended indefinitely and ceases to exist as part of our training. A policy change has been initiated and the new procedure will be that no one will be shooting photographic images in the future.

    We have fostered good relations with our community for decades, by providing excellence in policing and community involvement. We regret that this one incident could have set back the progress we have made. We will strive to be more sensitive to all and remain focused on being a community mind-ful (sic) police department. We see this challenge as an opportunity to examine all policies with in our police department.”

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