It was an NBC 6 Investigation that went across the globe — five years ago, a South Florida police department was found to be using the mugshots of African American men for target practice.
Now in the wake of George Floyd’s murder — it's trending again. Five years later, the North Miami Beach Police Department says it's done a complete about-face and is now recognized as one of the top departments in Florida.
When the call comes for police in North Miami Beach, Chief William Hernandez told NBC 6 that these days you’re getting one of the most highly accredited departments in Florida.
“We have taken 21st Century policing and we have implemented every single aspect,” Hernandez said.
That may be the case now, but it wasn’t that way in 2015, when the NBC 6 Investigators showed how North Miami Beach snipers were at the Medley range using the mugshots of Black men they had arrested before for target practice. The images when viral then, and now again with the calls for police reform.
Woody Deant’s image showed a bullet hole through his forehead.
“I do not deserve to be a target for sport,” he said back in 2015.
City Manager Esmond Scott said the city took it all to heart — for a start banning using any real images for shooting practice.
“You’ve got to examine the wheel, and so when we examined the wheel we examined what was inherently wrong. We brought in the ACLU. We brought in the NAACP. We go under the spokes to make sure that everything is fine,” Scott said.
With the call for change, the department says chokeholds here aren’t in the manual and the command team now has three white officers, three Black, four Hispanic and one supervisor from Pakistan.
“From creating the PAL program — getting 350 kids involved — diminishing the gang problems that we had here within the city to open dialog with the community with spiritual leaders, with business partners. We became more of a guardian for the city and that’s not where we were at before,” Hernandez said.
North Miami Beach says crime has dropped 10% since the mugshot images angered many. The number of IA complaints has dropped from 17 to 8 last year and 5 so far in 2020. He says the officers mirror the community with 52 Hispanic officers and 28 Black officers on the road.
“We are trying to do things outside the box. We are trying to bridge that gap between police and the citizens,” Detective Robert Quiñones said.
Things like giving out toy trains. It’s nowhere near Christmas, but Quiñones is give Santa a run for his money. He recently coordinated getting 250 toy trains for kids — the logistics would have impressed Rudolph.
“He felt a need in order to brighten the lives of the children from what is going on with the uncertainty of today," said Linda Roberts, who works with him in the Police Athletic League Program.
One Black community leader told us the department fixed the big trouble with the mugshots and has good officers on the force now but also said it's not perfect and there is still room to improve.