By Alexander Tuerk
Special to The Sentinel
SEABROOK – Prince George’s Police Department (PGPD) Chief Hank P. Stawinski condemned a six-month-long unauthorized yet legal incentive program in District 2 during a press conference on Aug. 7.
The program, according to Stawinski, rewarded the officers in the district who had the highest number of “enforcement actions,” such as arrests, citations and warnings, with 10 hours of compensatory time on a monthly basis.
Compensatory time is paid time off given instead of traditional overtime pay, according to PGPD Spokesperson Jennifer Donelan.
Stawinski said that the commander and assistant commander responsible for the program were reassigned elsewhere in the department but did not disclose their names or new assignments due to state personnel law.
District 2 covers Bowie, Glendale, Greenbelt, Kettering, Largo, Lanham, Mitchelville, New Carrollton, Seabrook, Springdale, Upper Marlboro and Woodmore.
Throughout the press conference, Stawinski said the unauthorized program was not a quota system with a certain number of actions as a goal, but rather a reward for productivity. Ticket quotas were banned in Maryland in 2006 via legislative action, but that bill only covered traffic tickets.
“This creates the possibility in people’s mind that an officer would make a traffic stop, detain a person, make an arrest, to receive a benefit,” Stawinski said, “It’s not the appropriate manner to professionally police in 2019.”
Stawinski said he was alerted to the program on July 26 by the department’s inspector general, Donnell Turner. The Office of the Inspector General performs investigations and audits into the police as an independent party, according to their website.
The same day, Stawinski said he convened the deputy chiefs to ensure no other programs existed in the department’s other districts and initiated an investigation into District 2.
Prior to the issue coming to Stawinski and Turner’s notice, the program had existed for six months.
The investigation looked at complaints submitted to Internal Affairs, and after 15 days, Stawinski said the department concluded that there were no such complaints associated within the program. Donelan explained further how a complaint was determined to be applicable to the investigation.
“If someone said they got a speeding ticket for no reason, then that’s something we would look into,” Donelan said.
Stawinski said that the commanders’ reassignments were done to ensure public trust in the department.
“Our culture has got to align with the values of this community,” Stawinski said. “I believed that the public would believe that officers would benefit themselves.”
The press conference was streamed live on the department’s Facebook page, where viewers could comment on the chief’s remarks in real-time. Some viewers praised the actions of the District 2 former leadership and the officers involved in the program.
“Crime is off the hook in the county. We should be glad someone was trying to do something about it,” Matthew Mitrione wrote, a U.S. Marshal and a Laurel native according to his profile.
Stawinski said that he does not think the program was created with malice toward the public and recognized the value of District 2 officers’ personal decisions in how they protect their communities.
“I don’t believe the men and women of this institution would abuse the rights of this citizenry to get 10 hours of comp time,” Stawinski said.
The incentive program is one of a series of personal incidents PGPD has dealt with since a lawsuit was filed in December of 2018.
Two police labor organizations, as well as the 11 officers, sued the department for discriminatory practices, including the use of racial slurs and retaliation methods for reporting misbehavior. According to ACLU of Maryland Legal Director Deborah Jeon, the case is ongoing with both sides exchanging information in the discovery phase.
When questioned about the department’s response and how its leadership handled the situation, County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said she supports PGPD being transparent and accountable to the community. She applauded the timeliness in addressing the issue right away first and explaining how the department planned to fix it.
“I am glad that the chief did not wait for the community to come to him and ask the question,” Alsobrooks said. “(Residents) will never have to worry. When we discover a problem, we will bring it to you first and tell you how we plan to address it.”
Stawinski acknowledged that the department does have an incentive program that rewards “good conduct” with 30 hours of compensatory time. Donelan clarified that the Good Conduct Award is given out yearly as part of a larger award ceremony for the department. Good conduct includes an officer having no complaints against them filed with Internal Affairs or no red light tickets, according to Stawinski, and has no relation to enforcement actions.
“The reason I’m in favor of programs such as that is the public cannot conclude that officers are doing anything in their official capacity to receive that award,” Stawinski said.
A policy to prevent any similar incentive programs would be implemented “in the near future,” the police chief said. According to Donelan, the policy has to be approved by the inspector general first before it can take effect but said that full implementation next week is likely.
Reporter José Umaña contributed to this report.