The use of mugshots for facial recognition and target practice is despicable and dangerous

African American MugshotsImagine walking into a shooting range one day and seeing mugshots of African Americans being used as target practice. Imagine still that one of those bullet riddled images you saw was that of your own brother.

Sgt. Valerie Deant, a member of the Florida Army National Guard, walked into the Medley Firearms Training Center last month only to discover that the North Miami Beach Police had been using mugshots of African Americans as target practice.

What really got her attention however was seeing the mugshot of Woody Deant, her brother, hanging there with a bullet hole in his forehead and his right eye. “I was like ‘why is my brother being used for target practice?'” Deant asked. Good question. Especially when you consider the mugshot was taken fifteen years ago.

In the year 2000, Woody Deant was arrested in connection to a drag race that left two people dead. He served four years in prison and since being released has turned his life around. “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 Deant’s old mugshot was among the pictures of six minorities used as targets by the North Miami Beach Police. NMBP Chief J. Scott Dennis defended the department’s use of actual photographs and says the technique is widely used and are vital for facial recognition drills. At the same time he denied the use of racial profiling.

If this technique is as widely used as he suggests, it might help explain some of the hostilities within law enforcement toward African Americans. When all you see are mugshots of black people, it’s easy to understand why people think minorities are targeted more often in real life.

A new survey by the Reuters and IPSOS polling organization has found a substantial distrust of police in the United States. Many Americans believe police target minorities unfairly and often lie for their own interests.

Chief Dennis said the officers involved showed bad judgement by only using mugshots of African Americans, but said no disciplinary action will be taken because no policies were actually violated.

Woody Deant, African American MugshotsThe police chief also said that he suspended the sniper training program (where the mugshots were used) as part of an internal investigation, but nevertheless his department will resume the use of human image targets after it expands the number of images in its inventory. They need time to print out more mugshots of white guys I guess.

Although I see the appeal, using images of real human beings as target practice, regardless of the color of their skin is greatly disturbing and dangerous.

When I was a kid, I found it fun to hang pictures of Ronald Reagan and Tipper Gore on my dart board. If I still had that dart board, I imagine it would be adorned with Stephen Harper’s face. But there is a world of difference between what I did, and what the North Miami Beach Police are doing.

First, I know I will not be running into Harper or Tipper anytime soon. Second, I make it a habit not to pack my darts when I walk the streets. While I might have the urge to give them a slap should I meet them, I know the paramedics won’t need to extract a dart from their forehead.

When a police officer uses mugshots of real people for both facial recognition and target practice, you’re asking for trouble as soon as the cop hits the streets. It’s possible that in the officer’s mind, should he happen to come across one of his “targets,” he would automatically think the target should be shot.

As Woody Deant said “Automatically in his [police officer] mind, he’s going to think target, target, target…”

By taking aim at the mugshots of only one racial or ethnic group, they are first assuming the guilt of the entire group, but they are also assuming the guilt of the individual. And when the mugshot was taken fifteen years ago, they can be assuming guilt long after any crime committed had been paid for.

I have no idea how widespread the use of mugshots is for target practice, but I’m willing to bet the Police of North Miami Beach are hardly the only guilty party.

If America’s police forces wish to improve their relations with their respective communities, they may want to stop using them for target practice.


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