Like it or not, police officers have to use photos of real people for target training, says the president of the American Sniper Association.
Derrick Barlett characterized the recent move to ban the practice in North Miami Beach, Florida, as "completely irresponsible and just plain stupid."
The issue was catapulted into the national spotlight last week after an investigation from Miami's NBC 6 found that the North Miami Beach Police Department was using mugshots of local black residents as targets during offices’ gun training. The investigation was launched after a Florida Army National Guard member walked into a gun range to find a 15-year old photo of her brother with bulletholes in it. It had just been used as a target by the department.
On Tuesday, the city council banned the use of mugshots or any other photographic material in target training after protesters stormed the meeting demanding an apology and the police chief's resignation.
Barlett called that decision “ridiculous.”
"To broadly say the officers are not allowed to use any photographic targets in their training is ridiculous—everyone around the world in law enforcement and military uses photographic targets for training," he told Fusion in a phone interview.
"It's a reality of the job. Police officers don't shoot at bullseyes on the street, they have to shoot at real people. So that type of realistic training is a requirement and a necessity," he said.
The American Sniper Association is a national research, training, and professional association for mostly law enforcement officials, with an estimated 800 members spread across the country. It became active in 2000.
When the NBC report came out, North Miami Beach Police Chief J. Scott Dennis offered a similar defense of the practice of using photos, saying it is "done throughout the industry" and citing training exercises at Snipercraft, an annual sniper training seminar.
Interestingly, Barlett also doubles as the director of Snipercraft. He said neither organization supports the use of mugshots as photographic material for targets. He had not communicated with Dennis about the controversy, he said, though he has been following the developments closely.
"We discourage the use of mugshots because of what happened in North Miami Beach. People have a perception that the police are training to target specific individuals, or a specific race of individuals, which is all nonsense," he said. "But perception in some cases is reality."
Speaking at Tuesday's meeting, police chief Dennis said: "I feel very, very badly. I sincerely apologized for what my department has done. This was a training program that had been going on long before I was here and when I found out about it, I ceased it. The resolution memorializes it in law."
“We have made a mistake,” city manager Ana Garcia said, according to the Miami Herald. “This is an apology from the bottom of our hearts.”
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.