Alsobrooks (D) asked for the chief’s resignation, a spokeswoman confirmed. In a news conference, Alsobrooks would not say why she asked Stawinski to resign. She said that the move was not related to the report on discrimination but noted that she has had numerous conversations with people in the community and the department.
“This is a decision I arrived at after much thought,” Alsobrooks said. “It is time to move in a different direction in terms of leadership.”
Alsobrooks, who also worked with Stawinski when she was the county’s top prosecutor, commended him for his years of service to the county.
“We have seen a lot of success together,” she said. “Nevertheless to everything there is a season. . . . Right now we are in a different season.”
Alsobrooks named Assistant Chief Hector Velez as acting chief. Velez, 55, has had a varied career in Prince George’s since joining the force in 1994, starting with patrol and investigating property and financial crimes, then moving up the executive ladder to commander of the District 1 station, deputy chief of investigations and assistant chief.
Velez, a 26-year veteran, said: “We’re at a crossroads where we have an opportunity to choose a path that unites us, that helps strengthen the relationship between the residents of Prince George’s County and the men and women of the Prince George’s County Police Department. We also have an opportunity to work together to make the Prince George’s County Police Department what the residents want it to be.”
Stawinski, who became chief in 2016, was not at the news conference and did not respond to requests for comment Friday.
Prince George’s County Council member Jolene Ivey (D-District 5) said the change in leadership brings “a real opportunity to do a lot of the things that citizens in the county want from our police force.”
“It’s an important step toward changing the culture,” said Ivey, a former state delegate.
She said that a top concern has long been the treatment of minority officers in the department and that she would like to see the unredacted version of the report, which was made by a policing expert hired on behalf of officers filing a lawsuit against the county.
Angelo Consoli, president of the Prince George’s police union, said that he was shocked by Stawinski’s resignation and that Stawinski’s “heart was in the right place.”
Consoli said that some of Stawinski’s recent public comments about the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights, and disciplinary actions he was prevented from taking because of it, made some officers uncomfortable.
“Officers didn’t know where they stood,” he said. “But even though we didn’t always see eye to eye, we always had a seat at the table.”
Alsobrooks said she had been considering making a change in department leadership for months. She praised the former police chief for his successes, noting the 50 percent decrease in violent crime over the past decade and Stawinski’s “Chief on the Go” program that allowed for better community engagement.
But she said the Prince George’s police department has “challenges very similar to those that are woven across police departments across this nation.”
The expert report was released as part of a lawsuit filed by officers who alleged that the county police department is biased against black and Hispanic employees. The lawsuit also asserts that the department systematically demotes those who complain of biased treatment. The county has largely denied the allegations in court filings.
The report also identified complaints from community members and politicians about racist or abusive conduct.
Alsobrooks declined to discuss anything related to the lawsuit, including whether she would release an unredacted version of the report.
She said that any allegations of racism concern her and said she is willing to listen to the officers. She also said the county is in the process of hiring a consultant to examine the department “from top to bottom.”
Stawinski had served as chief of the 1,500-officer department since January 2016. He is the son of a Prince George’s sergeant and grew up in the county, graduating from DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville. He was a homicide detective and the commander of a police district during his rise through the ranks and became known for his data-driven approach to policing.
When he took over, he told reporters he was committed to ensuring that the people working in the department reflected the makeup of the county, which is 64 percent black. But Stawinski also said he was not necessarily a reformer, instead preferring to focus on finding inefficiencies in the department’s budget, reducing crime and strengthening relationships with the community.
From 2016 to 2018, the amount of serious crime in the county dropped 7 percent, state crime statistics show. The number of homicides declined from 88 in 2016 to 74 in the past year.
Stawinski was outspoken about some instances of officer misconduct. In a recent instance of video showing an officer kicking a man at a gas station in Langley Park, Stawinski spoke out against police brutality, saying he was “ashamed and weary.” In January, he supported charges against an officer accused of fatally shooting a handcuffed man.
Bob Ross, president of the Prince George's County NAACP, said Thursday night that he was glad Stawinski “decided to do the right thing” in resigning.
“There was a lot of pressure being applied,” Ross said. “This is something that didn't happen overnight.”
Ross said that Stawinski lacked support among younger community members, especially those under 40 who also tend to be the most affected by policing. He said that he learned about Stawinski’s resignation before the local chapter of the NAACP met, so they did not need to hold the vote of no confidence that was planned.
Rashawn Ray, a fellow at the Brookings Institution focused on police-civilian relations and a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, said Stawinski had good intentions in leading the department.
“He is innovative, and he cares. Hopefully there is room for him in the policy space to advance police reform,” Ray said. “His biggest weakness is that he lost a lot of his officers, and it further created conflict internally. It was just too much to overcome.”
“The change will really have to come internally with PGPD,” he said. “It is a question of if they can find someone who not only has the trust of the community but also of the rank-and-file officers.”
Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA, which has pushed for reform measures in immigration enforcement and criminal justice policies in the county, said the group has for years been concerned about allegations of discrimination within the department. Members of the association of Latino police officers met regularly at CASA to organize, he said.
“We are concerned about the abuses and discrimination. The police officers who are people of color are also members of our community, and they deserve all the respect,” Torres said. “If officers don’t feel respected, they are not going to respect our community.”
Prince George’s State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy (D) held a news conference Friday with the county’s top public defender, Keith Lotridge, in which both called for increased transparency from the police department.
Braveboy said her office would request an unredacted copy of the report on discrimination within the department and is requesting greater access to personnel and disciplinary records of police officers, which she said the office does not regularly receive.
“I must and I will advocate for change and greater accountability,” Braveboy said.
Lotridge said public defenders do not receive records of investigations of police misconduct. “There has been a concerted effort to keep the citizens of this county and defendants facing jail from accessing this information,” Lotridge said.
“Today marks a new day in Prince George’s County,” Braveboy said.
Ovetta Wiggins, Clarence Williams, Luz Lazo, Emily Davies and Dan Morse contributed to this report.