NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. - Earlier this month, Prince George’s County Police Chief Hank Stawinski celebrated 25 years serving on the police force. He has spent nearly the last three years as the department’s top cop.
For Chief Stawinski, the Prince George’s County Police Department is not just where he works, it is almost all he knows. His father was once also an officer in the very county where he was born.
But like all jurisdictions, the job comes with crime. In July, there were 12 homicides in an 11-day period leading to the police chief to order his officers to temporarily patrol the county in 12-hour shifts.
The spate of violent crime over the summer had the community fearing there was a spike in violence. It is a notion the chief is quick to dispel.
“I think we need to take measured and temporary action that will quell this dynamic, so we did that for ten days and the result as I stand here today is that violent crime in this county today is down five percent over last year,” Stawinski said.
Homicides in Prince George's County are also down. There have been 67 homicides in 2017 – seven fewer than last year.
The summer also saw swarms of all-terrain vehicles traveling through the streets of the county. It is an issue that has plagued the area and neighboring jurisdictions for years.
Roughly 100 illegal dirt bikes and ATVs were seen riding through National Harbor back in June, with some of the illegal vehicles being driven on the sidewalks.
As a response, the police department rolled out Barracuda stop sticks, a device which causes tire deflation at a controlled rate.
“We are not going to meet reckless behavior with reckless behavior,” said Chief Stawinski. “We are not going to further endanger the public.”
When we asked him about the department’s no-chase policy, Stawinski said, “I have modified the chase policy, but it will not apply to these vehicles.”
However, the police chief said that there will be some circumstances where officer will pursue vehicles.
“If there is a violent crime, if someone has been harmed grievously, if we have reason to believe that poses a continuing threat to our public, we will chase and we will apprehend,” he said.
The police union for Prince George's County said their relationship with Stawinski is professional.
“I try very hard to work together, and when we are not able to work together, take that for what it is and try to keep that out of the limelight,” said Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89 President John Teletchea. “It is not productive for my members and it is not productive for the community we serve.”
What has not been kept out of the limelight are the allegations of discrimination against the police department's Hispanic and African American officers.
"I want to know what the complaints are,” said Chief Stawinski. “I am not so much interested in who the complainants are as people.”
This month, the chief announced his department was under investigation by the Department of Justice. The complaint filed was reportedly signed by more than 90 minority officers.
Stawinski has addressed several photos under investigation, including one where the word "color" was crossed off in the writing of “color guard” on a locker. The words “African American” were written in instead.
Another picture believed to precede Stawinski's tenure as police chief showed a training dummy with black face pasted on and an afro wig at its feet.
Another photo that is part of the complaint showed an officer's personal license plate that reads "GFYOBMA." It is an acronym that is meant to be offensive, according to Stawinski.
“When these concerns came up, I didn’t wait to act, I didn't wait until the Department of Justice said we are going to come in and look at things,” said Stawinski. “I said let’s start doing these concrete things to begin to figure out what the real facts are, and then if those facts lead us to a place where we need to make change, we will make change.”
The Prince George’s County police union said they have not seen the Department of Justice complaint, which is reportedly 300 pages long.
The police department said more than half of its sworn officers are either black or Hispanic.