Parents of a Michigan-based Cub Scout said their child was aghast after finding out their local police department was only using mock-ups of Black men for target practice at the force’s shooting range. The scouts, who typically range between the ages of 8 to 10½, stumbled upon the information during a field trip, prompting a mother and father of one child to take action.
The Farmington Hills cub scouts have had a working relationship with the suburban Detroit city’s police department. On a recent trip to see officers in action, Fox 2 News reports, the young children were brought to the shooting range, located in the basement of the Farmington Hills Police Department. Once there, the scouts discovered that African-American men were used as the overlay images for the officers’ target practice. The city denies this claim.
Afraid to speak out on their own, the parents of one scout reached out to a lawyer to speak on their behalf and express their shock and disgust.
Dionne Webster-Cox, who is representing the family, Dionne Webster-Cox, believes what the officers shared with the kids was outrageous on multiple levels.
She said, “They took the little kids, this Cub Scout troop down to the basement where they do the target practice, and their targets are all Black men. I was just outraged by that.”
Webster-Cox contends that while she and the parents are not looking to file a lawsuit against the city, there is an issue of racial bias, a lack of diversity, and healthy community engagement worth noting in the FHPD’s policing.
She says showing young children that only Black men are being used for target practice by FHPD is sending off the wrong message about being Black and living in the area.
Webster-Cox said this type of message leads to “racial profiling,” questioning, “You had a Boy Scout troop in there, you had 8- and 9-year-olds, what are you teaching them?”
Farmington Hills considers itself a mixed community, but those running the city do not always reflect the population. According to the 2020 Census, 62.1 percent of the population that rings in at 83,986 identifies as white. Blacks make up 18.5 percent.
The executive director of the Michigan Diversity Council and CEO of Life Journey, Darlene King, says, “Farmington Hills is a very diverse community. It’s diverse socioeconomically, in gender, racially, and ethnically. But when you take a look at the city employees, it is not the same.”
King has pushed the city to hire a diversity, equity, and inclusion director, create a diversity council and bring on more people of color to its staff. Hometown Life reports the city already has begun an effort to bring more Black police officers onto the force.
Despite this, the lawyer is challenging the department to do more and change from its current practice, “Farmington Hills Police Department, you need to do better — why is there no diversity? I don’t see how any Black male walking in Farmington is safe.”
Cox’s rationale fits perfectly with King’s 2021 analysis of the FHPD to do better with their “cultural competency,” awareness, and “engagement.”
She said, “Let’s look at community policing — that’s a huge hot topic right now—Police are there to be public servants and provide public safety. But, when the police department is a very homogeneous group trying to service a very diverse community, there is a disconnect there.”
“You have a lack of understanding, a lack of cultural competency, and a lack of engagement because they are not having engagement on any other level than stopping someone from violating a law.”
The attorney believes there is an answer somewhere and has begun strategizing ways to raise awareness of racial bias in police training.
One of the first things that she found is that in 2021, a former FHPD officer, who happened to be a Black man, filed a complaint charging racial bias against the department.
She also found that she and the ex-cop weren’t the only ones suspicious about the force’s bias, but so were others. Like Webster-Cox, the American Civil Liberties Union started investigating the department.
She said, “In July 2021 the ACLU had sent a (Freedom of Information Act) Request over to The Farmington Hills Police Department requesting how much money has been spent regarding, I guess, target practice.”
Based on the results of the request, Cox discovered the FHPD has not used all the materials that were supposed to be used for target practice.
She said, “They ordered this target – they had lots of groups, Caucasians, it was very diverse,” she observed. “But the only ones you are actually using is the Black men?”
“At the end of the day and want to make clear this behavior is not acceptable because it affects all of us,” she said.
In a news release, the FHPD stated the allegations went public before the force was offered an “official invitation, information, or notice related to this situation. Additionally, the Department was afforded no opportunity to investigate or respond.”
The statement also noted that an investigation was conducted into the matter and that the Cub Scout was mistaken about the target practice.
“Chief Jeff King ordered a comprehensive review of the accusations raised,” it read in part.
The probe found that the officers in Farmington Hills Police Department used 11 white targets and two Black targets when practicing and those metrics “are consistent with the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards (MCOLES) and the City’s demographics.”
Additionally, Chief King stated his concerns about the allegations, saying, “I cannot overstress the seriousness of these accusations. Considering the emotional impact this could have on our community, and in keeping with our agency’s commitment and partnership with our citizens, I am ordering an immediate legal review of our training system and targets, to be completed prior to our fall training cycle.”
“The women and men of the Farmington Hills Police Department serve this City with integrity, dedication, and professionalism every day. Each member strives to constantly reinforce our commitment to protect and serve the public, partner with our citizens, and strengthen our outstanding community relationships,” he continued. “As Chief, I feel it is my duty to ensure that these efforts are never demeaned, mischaracterized, or misrepresented, which only serves to undermine our relationship with our community.”