Florida police department uses black men’s mugshots for target practice
A Florida National Guardswoman was alarmed to discover her brother’s mugshot riddled with bullets at a shooting range where police officers had been taking target practice.
Sgt. Valerie Deant, who plays clarinet with the Florida Army National Guard’s 13th Army Band, said her brother was among several photos — all of black suspects — used during shooting drills by North Miami Beach police officers, reported WTVJ-TV.
She immediately became upset and called her brother, who had been arrested in 2000, when he was 15 years old, in connection with a drag race that killed two people.
“The picture actually has, like, bullet holes,” said Woody Deant. “One in my forehead and one in my eye — I was speechless.”
The City of Medley owns the firearms training center, which is leased to law enforcement agencies and the National Guard, but the shooting range staff does not select the targets that are used.
J. Scott Dennis, chief of North Miami Beach police, admitted officers should have used better judgment in selecting the targets but denies any racist intent, pointing out that the department’s sniper team includes minority officers.
The police chief also defended the department’s use of photographs as targets, saying the technique is widely used as part of facial recognition drills.
Deant and her brother wondered why the department used only photos of black suspects in their drills – and law enforcement experts agreed.
“The use of those targets doesn’t seem correct,” said Alex Vasquez, a retired FBI agent. “The police have different options for targets. I think the police have to be extra careful and sensitive to some issues that might be raised.”
Dennis claimed officers sometimes used mug shots showing white and Hispanic suspects, but he admits that they should probably not use photos of people arrested by the department and might still live in the area.
Other law enforcement agencies contacted by WTVJ said they use only commercially produced targets, not photos of actual people.
Dennis said the department would continue to do so, but only after expanding its inventory of images.
Officers also won’t use booking photos of suspect the department has arrested, and they will remove targets from the shooting range when they are finished using them.
Woody Deant, who served four years in prison for his role in the drag race and is now a married father, said he’s worried he might encounter an officer who use his face for target practice.
“Automatically in [a police officer’s] mind he’s going to think target, target, target,” he said.
Watch this video report posted online by WTVJ-TV: