Black, Hispanic police groups call for reform in Prince George’s County

Members of police organizations that represent Black and Hispanic officers have submitted 12 recommendations to the Prince George’s County Police Reform Work Group.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs released the 12 recommendations, which include calling on the county to require officers to reside in Prince George’s County, Maryland; enhance current affirmative action policies; carry out both periodic and random internal reviews and audits; and hold annual implicit bias and anti-discrimination training.

Lt. Sonya Zollecoffer, a member of the Prince George’s County Police Department, said the reforms are badly needed. She said that documented misconduct cases have damaged community relations.

“They don’t trust us, and sometimes I feel ashamed because of the police department. I feel ashamed of that uniform,” Zollecoffer said.

Lt. Thomas Boone, with the United Black Police Officers Association, said recruiting should be carried out in the county, and that there should be a partnership with schools to encourage public safety careers.

When he was on the force, Boone said, “I saw that we were hiring people that weren’t from the community. Those people lacked understanding of what the community needed.”

Zollecoffer said, “I’m from this county, I live in this county. So, I’m vested in this county. I care about the citizens of this county.”

She said more has to be done to empower officers to report wrongdoing by others.

“It is not enough to say that it’s not allowed,” she said. The county needs to follow up and make sure that misconduct “is not happening.”

Capt. Joe Perez, with the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association, said, “Let’s make the Prince George’s County Police Department better.”

Boone said the existing school resource officers should serve as mentors. He said many do a good job, but in many cases, Boone said, “A lot of times, the SROs are no more than another layer of security” and that leads to problems.

The list of recommendations was offered hours before the Prince George’s County Police Reform Work Group held a listening session Wednesday evening.

The group was formed by County Executive Angela Alsobrooks as the county faced a lawsuit alleging a culture of “racism and retaliation” by past and current members of the police department.

Former county police Chief Hank Stawinski resigned last month following a 94-page report by the ACLU that detailed racial bias and discrimination toward officers of color.

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