How would you like to walk into a shooting range, and discover that someone who had been there before you was using a picture of your family member as a target? It would be pretty upsetting, right? So, how would you feel when you discovered that the persons using your family member as a target were police? That’s what happened last month, to Florida National Guard Sergeant Valerie Deant.
According to Miami’s NBC affiliate, WTVJ, Deant, who plays in a national guard band, and her fellow soldiers arrived at the shooting range for their annual weapons training. What they found disgusted them: photos of black men that had apparently been used as targets by the North Miami Beach Police Department snipers who had used the range just before the guardsmen. Deant was further shocked to discover that one of the photos was of her brother.
Deant’s brother, Woody, was 18 when he was arrested, 15 years ago, in connection with a drag race, where two people died. It was his mug shot, along with the mug shots of five other African Americans, that police were using for target practice.
North Miami Beach Police Chief J. Scott Dennis says that the technique of using actual photographs for target practice is useful for facial identification. Fair enough, but do the North Miami Beach police believe that they only need to improve their facial recognition of African Americans? “Our policies were not violated. There is no discipline that is forthcoming for the individuals regarding this,” Dennis tells WTVJ’s reporter, Willard Shepard.
Police chief says that they use people of all colors for target practice.
Chief Dennis goes on to explain that just because all six pictures were of black men, that doesn’t mean that there was any racial profiling being done. “We utilize an array of pictures,” Dennis says. “We’ll have six pictures of people who look very similar. We have an array for black males. We have an array of white, and Hispanic males.”
Dennis does say that he is concerned about Deant’s photo being among the targets. Apparently the photos used for this training are ones that are gathered from police agencies throughout the country, not ones of individuals who have been arrested in North Miami Beach. He tells WTVJ:
What we are very, very concerned about, is the event that occurred here, because it happened to be someone that was arrested by this agency. That individual would be somebody that would be on the streets of North Miami Beach.
Dennis claims that the practice of using these arrays is commonplace among police departments. But, WTVJ’s reporter says that the station contacted various law enforcement agencies that have SWAT, or sniper teams, and all say that they use targets that they purchase from a vendor. He says the other police agencies told WTVJ that they never use photos of real human beings.
Woody Deant served four years in prison following his conviction in the drag racing case. He says that he is not that 18 year old any more.
Now I’m being used as a target? I’m not even living that life according to how they portrayed me as. I’m a father. I’m a husband. I’m a career man. I work 9-to-5.
Woody and Valerie Deant have hired attorney Andell Brown, who says he finds this to be a potentially dangerous situation. Brown wonders if shooting at photos of real people could affect an officer’s decision over whether or not to use deadly force on the street, based on whether the person looked like someone in the photos.
But apparently the North Miami Beach police have the answer to their problem. WTVJ’s report says that the chief has instructed his officers to remove the targets after they use the shooting range.
Here’s the report, from WTVJ:
Image via screen shot