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More black and Latino officers allege systemic discrimination in the Prince George’s police department

About a dozen black and Hispanic officers in the Prince George’s County Police Department are asking their interim chief to address what they say is systemic discrimination within the force and immediately fill empty jobs with minority officers who have already qualified for rank promotions.

The officers sent a letter to interim chief Hector Velez on July 13 asking department leadership to meet with them to discuss the process by which officers earn career advancement. Their letter cited statistics they say shows the demographics of department leadership skew white, but the vast majority of Prince George’s residents are black or Latino.

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“We come to you with an open hand,” the officers and their lawyer, Lawrence Holzman, wrote in the letter. They said it was their intent to keep the conversation internal.

But Holzman said that two weeks later, his clients — most of whom did not sign their names to the letter fearing retaliation — have yet to receive a substantive response or invitation to meet from department leadership. They decided to take their concerns public and on Tuesday released the letter.

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“We thought this would be a simple negotiation,” Sgt. Lynn Grant said during a news conference. “Change needs to be made, and we’re asking, we’re pleading. We deserve this.”

At the heart of their argument is a request for the chief to elevate nonwhite officers to positions of power that are currently vacant or filled with acting personnel. The formal process for an officer to be promoted to sergeant, lieutenant or captain is based on testsadministered biannually, the letter said. Officers take a written and oral exam, and if they pass, they are placed on a list of people who are eligible for a promotion in rank when positions become available.

But according to the officers’ letter, department leadership disportionately promotes the white officers from that list. Per department policy, the list of officers eligible for a promotion expires two months before the next exam — and the cycle of favoritism begins again, the letter asserts.

This year’s test was supposed to take place in April but was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. But there are still positions at every rank that need to be permanently filled, Holzman said, and there is a list of nonwhite officers eager to fill them. One of them is Grant, who said she has been with the department for nearly 21 years and feels disheartened by what she has witnessed.

“We’re not at the bottom of the barrel. We’re very capable of stepping into our position and moving the county forward,” she said. “I’m here because a lot of the members that stand with me are afraid of retaliation.”

The officers argue it is within Velez’s power to ignore past policy about the expired list and unilaterally decide to empower nonwhite officers now.

“We believe, at this moment, there is an opportunity to take advantage of a fluke in the way that the covid pandemic has affected the way promotions work,” Holzman said.

In a statement, County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) said the police reform task force she assembled and the Human Resources department is looking into internal policies, including promotions.

“The process that produced the promotional list in question is the same process that has been used for many years and was negotiated by the union that represents these police officers,” Alsobrooks said. “... It is our goal to ensure that every policy and procedure is fair and equitable for every officer.”

Holzman and the officers expressed support for another group of black and Latino officers who have been suing the county since 2018, alleging discrimination within the department. Those officers, who are members of two minority police associations, are not the same officers that Holzman is representing.

“We support the other officers and we support any effort that will be made to fix the things that are problematic at the Prince George’s Police Department,” Holzman said.”Meet with us, talk with us — or don’t. Just start doing it.”

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