The Prince George's County Police Department (PGPD) repeatedly has been accused of discrimination and bias. Earlier this year, more than 120 officers signed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice describing a racist, unfair workplace. Last month, an officer sparked outrage after Police Chief Hank Stawinski said the officer misspoke on video in referring to "a black bad guy" while teaching a group of children about K-9s.
The police department broke new ground with a training program that aims to make officers aware of their unconscious biases.
But one officer told News4 that officers were discouraged from completing the training. Several other officers said they were told not to take a testing portion of the course because it could go into their files.
In February, Stawinski joined county leaders in announcing a partnership with the University of Maryland (UMD) to train officers about their prejudices.
"This is about the nuanced things that can lead to bad outcomes if we are not aware of those lenses that we have," he said at the time.
The class has two components: a lecture and discussion followed by a virtual reality test.
But an officer who spoke to News4 on the condition of anonymity said the class he attended was "tainted" from the start.
Prince George's County
News4's Prince George's County Bureau Chief Tracee Wilkins reports.
"They spent about 45 minutes talking to us about how bad the class was, and how it doesn't benefit us, and that we shouldn't participate with it," he said, referring to what he recalled the academy instructors saying.
During a bias training session on June 12, the officer said his class of more than 30 people chose to leave before the instruction had ended.
A PGPD spokesman said the officers left because UMD violated its agreement with the police department, and they had permission to go.
That's not how the officer described it.
"The instructor had given us a 10-minute break, and then, when we all went out into the hallway, we collectively decided to just walk out of the class," he said.
The officer said eventually the class was called back to the academy, where the deputy chief spoke with them.
"He addressed the class saying there would be no consequences to us walking out," the officer said.
Despite leaving the class early, everyone in it got credit, he said.
The officer said he thought officers should have given the class a chance.
"I think officers should have been allowed the opportunity to go in on that Tuesday with an open mind, and allow the officers to make up their own mind," he said.
A number of other officers said academy instructors strongly encouraged them not to complete the virtual reality testing portion of the class, as their score could go into their files.
The virtual reality portion of the class is held at UMD, which agreed to a visit and then rescinded the invitation. PGPD later said no media were allowed inside.
Stawinski told News4 that 900 of the department's 1,700 officers have taken the bias training. Only 22 have participated in the virtual reality evaluation portion, he said.
The police chief defended the bias training and had this message on Friday for any staff who oppose it.
"People who are satisfied with the way things are resist change, but my community and the vast majority of my officers expect us to move forward and to address critical issues," he said.
Stawinski said he would look at the class that did not complete the session and make them redo it.