Police in North Miami have suspended a sniper training program after it was revealed that trainees used old mugshots of black suspects during target practice.
The pictures, which featured inmates who had been arrested more than a decade ago, were discovered by a member of the National Guard who saw a bullet-riddled photo of her brother at the gun range used by police in early December.
Army Sgt. Valerie Deant told reporters she broke down in tears when she saw her brother Woody Deant, who was arrested 15 years ago, pictured in a lineup of other suspects with bullet holes through his forehead and eyes.
— NBC 6 South Florida (@nbc6) January 15, 2015
While North Miami Beach Police Chief J. Scott Dennis launched an internal investigation into the program in late December, it wasn’t until Friday after swelling public outcry that he formally halted the program.
“I immediately suspend the sniper training program as we conduct a thorough review of our training process and materials, ordered commercially produced training images, and opened an investigation into the matter,” Dennis said in a statement.
But Dennis said that none of the department’s policies were violated and that no disciplinary action will be taken.
He also said the grid of 22 target photos also included images of whites, Hispanics and even Osama bin Laden.
“We’ll have six pictures of people who will look very similar,” Dennis told NBC Miami. “We have an array for black males, we have an array of white and Hispanic males. And the purpose for this is to be able that they can have the sniper identify a particular individual that they’re given a small picture of and looking down range at this array of six to be able to pick the proper target out based on what was presented to them in intelligence.”
Amid a climate of strained relationships between police and minority communities across the country, Dennis released on Friday a 22-point memo with facts about the sniper program, in which he insisted the training was not racially motivated.
“This was not a race issue,” the memo said. “There was no mal-intent or prejudice involved. The same target inventory has been used for more than a decade.”