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Minority officers release 12 ideas to overhaul Prince George’s police

Bob Ross, with the Prince George's County NAACP, along with leaders of groups representing minority police officers, discussing their lawsuit against the county police force in December 2018. (Lynh Bui/The Washington Post)

Two associations representing black and brown officers in Prince George’s County unveiled a 12-point reform plan Thursday that they say will help overhaul the police department and make it more inclusive and equitable for minority officers and residents.

The recommendations include the adoption of an affirmative-action plan to make the police force more “representative of the community it serves,” along with residency requirements for department leaders and incentives for rank-and-file officers to live in Prince George’s. The groups also recommended greater accountability in internal-affairs investigations and additional training around discrimination, retaliation, harassment and implicit bias.

The ideas were sent in a letter to the members of the county’s task force on police reform. County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) created the task force this month as Prince George’s battles allegations of discrimination within the police department and amid nationwide calls for police reform after George Floyd was killed in the custody of Minneapolis officers.

The two groups recommending the 12-point plan are the United Black Police Officers Association (UBPOA) and the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association (HNLEA), whose members sued the county in 2018 alleging workplace discrimination. The lawsuit — which asserts the police department disproportionately disciplines minority officers — has not been resolved.

“I know that we can do better for both the citizens of Prince George’s County and the officers that work for Prince George’s,” Joe Perez, the president of HNLEA and a former a former officer with the department, said in a news conference Thursday.

Perez is a plaintiff in the lawsuit alongside about a dozen officers. They are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.

Prince George’s County Circuit Court Judge Maureen Lamasney and state Del. Alonzo T. Washington (D-Prince George’s) were asked to lead the county’s task force and present a report to Alsobrooks by Oct. 30.

Washington said the task force will review and consider the recommendations from all community members who submit ideas ahead of the October deadline. The task force had a public listening session scheduled for Thursday evening.

The police associations submitted their recommendations in a 10-page letter signed by Perez and UBPOA President Thomas Boone, who is a lieutenant in the department and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

The letter calls for the department to eliminate what they call a culture of retaliation against officers who “object to racist statements, racist conduct, and discrimination by white officers.” It also calls for the department to adopt an officer-bystander intervention program that encourages members of the department to step in if they witness wrongdoing by a colleague.

“You have to earn respect within your community, and the way you earn respect is showing them you will be a part of the community. . . . You build a police force that wants to learn from their mistakes,” Lt. Sonya Zollicoffer, second vice president of the UBPOA, said in the news conference. “You have to fix within before you can fix outside the department.”

The department has said in the past that it works with the Prince George’s County state’s attorney’s office to investigate allegations of wrongdoing, including some ­cases in which officers report other police officers.

The associations also urged the department to overhaul how it monitors civilian complaints to look for instances or patterns of racial profiling.

Two full sections of the letter include recommendations to address implicit bias in internal-affairs investigations or disciplinary decisions, along with suggestions on revamping the process for filing equal-employment complaints.

The final recommendation suggests creating a chief compliance officer ranked higher than the deputy chiefs to head a new “Office of Compliance.” That position’s sole responsibility, the groups said, should be to implement reform recommendations.

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Stats show minority officers in Prince George’s are disproportionately disciplined, court filings assert