Prince George’s Co. interim chief details how hiring roots out white supremacists

Prince George’s County interim Police Chief Hector Velez told the county council his department is taking steps to ensure that white supremacists aren’t given badges and guns in the Maryland county.

As Maryland lawmakers consider a wide-ranging police reform bill, Velez was asked by a council member about what Prince George’s County police are doing to prevent the hiring of white supremacists, in a county where about 75% of the population is Black or Hispanic.

“Every recruit officer has to sit down with a psychologist. They also have to take a battery of tests,” said Velez, who was named interim chief in November 2020 after Chief Hank Stawinski abruptly resigned. A new unredacted report detailed allegations of systemic racism inside the department, under both Stawinski and Velez, was released last week.

Velez told the council the department uses a multi-pronged method of screening potential hires to discover biases.

“We’re looking at their social media accounts — that’s going to tell you where their mindset is,” said Velez. “And, it isn’t something they can get rid of easily.”

In addition, Velez said rather than speeding through the process, hiring should include a personal interview, in which the hiring officer could see how the recruit deals with others.

“Especially if you have an officer that’s African-American, and the recruit is white. It’s important that officer be able to see his body language, and the inflection of the tone, and things like that.”

The issue of police reform was only one item discussed by Velez, as he presented an analysis of last year’s crime in the county.

Homicides were up 25%, contact shootings went up 30% and carjackings jumped by 181%.

“Fifty percent of the vehicles taken from the county were recovered in D.C.,” Velez said. “When there was a carjacking that occurred, the vehicle would automatically flee into D.C.”

Velez said investigators believe suspects go the District to minimize the risk of spending a long time in jail.

“We believe it’s because if they were caught in D.C. they would be charged with unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and would not be held long,” said Velez.

Recognizing the multi-jurisdictional trend, Velez said his department is now working more closely with the District to investigate carjackings.

“Let’s say D.C. has an alert that goes about about a carjacked vehicle, our team also gets that,” said Velez. “So, there’s a lot of communication that’s going on, across the border.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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