Sidelined Police Go Back To Work

Pr. George's Chief Cites Staffing Needs

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Prince George's County Police Department in recent days returned to full duty nearly half of the 31 county officers who had been sidelined while they were investigated for shooting at suspects, dramatically reducing a backlog that strained resources.

The 14 officers -- most of whom had been on leave or desk duty for six months or more -- were reinstated by Chief Roberto L. Hylton, who cleared them even though internal reviews of the shootings are incomplete.

"Chief Hylton decided that in the interest of maintaining proper staffing levels, this was one area where officers were being kept away from their duties unnecessarily," said Maj. Andy Ellis, a department spokesman. "He has not scrapped the [internal] process, but he is reevaluating the way it will work going forward."

The Washington Post reported last month that the department's unusually lengthy review process is at odds with an aim shared by most other departments in the region: to see that officers who have done nothing wrong return to work as quickly as possible.

The process in Prince George's has resulted in more than 100 county officers being taken off patrol for months at a time during the past five years, being paid more than $1 million in salary while they were prohibited from those duties. Not one shooting by an on-duty county officer in that time has been deemed unjustified.

Last month, Hylton said that, until a reporter described them, he was unaware that the differences between his department's practices and those of other area departments were so stark, and he vowed to streamline the reviews.

At the time, 38 officers from major police agencies in the area were sidelined because of such investigations. All but seven were county police in Prince George's.

Unlike police agencies in the District, Virginia and neighboring counties in Maryland, which usually return officers to full duty within days or weeks, the practice in Prince George's has been to keep officers from full duty until reviews by both the county prosecutor and the police department are complete.

State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey presents evidence from most police shootings to a grand jury -- a process that can take weeks or months. Once that process is complete, a panel of police officials must review the shooting again before the officer involved is allowed to return to full duty. The 14 officers cleared late last month were in the latter part of that process.

After the report in The Post, Hylton reviewed the shootings that Ivey had cleared and reinstated the 14 officers before their cases were reviewed by the panel, Ellis said.

Among the 14 were six officers who on Thursday received medals of valor in the shootings.

Two of the recipients, Sgt. Jeffrey Schreiber and Officer James Beasock Jr., were involved in the fatal shooting in November of a bank robber who had shot a bank teller in Howard County and then led police on a running gun battle through three counties.

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