A disturbing report by WTVJ in Miami describes how at least one North Miami Beach resident's 15-year-old mugshot was used in shooting drills as recently as last month by the same city's police sniper team.
"People that are… supposed to be protecting us are using us as target practice," Woody Deant, who took the mugshot after participating in a fatal drag race 15 years ago, told NBC 6. His sister, Florida National Guard Sergeant Valerie Deant, discovered the discarded and bullet-hole-ridden photo array at a shooting range in Medley, Florida in December.
The agency's sniper drills have been suspended since, and the North Miami Beach Police Department has assured the Deant family that the photo array with Woody Deant will not be used again.
On Tuesday, the police agency reacted further to the public outcry over this training method with a more absolute statement about this type of sniper training: "a policy change has been initiated and the new procedure will be that no one will be shooting photographic images in the future."
Image via WTVJ/NBC6 Miami
Even without the Deants intervening, this photo array has likely already been used and reused for over a decade. "It's been in the sniper inventory that we can identify for at least 7 years… but more than likely it's probably closer to 10-12 years," North Miami Beach Police Chief J. Scott Dennis told NBC 6.
"The particular array that we're talking about was put together sometime in the early 2000s. … This drill is not something that's unusual or unique to the North Miami Beach Police Department," Dennis also remarked. "This would be a practice that is done throughout the industry."
Even with the Department's statement that it will end training with booking photo materials, it's improbable that this practice will simply disappear any time soon.
Dennis admitted sharing concerns that this incident "happened to… someone that was arrested by this agency… somebody that would be on the streets of North Miami Beach" and promised "…moving forward [the department will] utilize mugshots and other types of photographic evidence available to us that will be not from the general area, certainly not from the department nor the city, we will reach out preferably outside the state of Florida."
In an interview with NBC 6's Willard Shepard published January 16, Chief Dennis continued to defend the use of real mugshots in training the police sniper team: "It's important to know that the amount of training, the realism of the training, is necessary to ensure that we have an incident that comes out as good as can be expected, when these snipers have to take life-saving shots."
The use of a local resident in sniper training is highly disturbing, but it's also important to distinguish between the use of mugshot materials for sniper field-training the police chief describes here, and the appearance of the actual photo array. If photo arrays of similar faces are so critical for snipers to take life-saving shots, why is it that in this scenario, all six mugshots were treated as targets?
The North Miami Beach Police Department has not yet provided a comment to Fusion, but has announced that an internal investigation is underway.
Andy is a graphics editor and cartoonist at Fusion.