A police department just outside of Detroit uses images of Black men in hoodies and backwards caps holding guns as shooting practice targets, a group of Boy Scouts discovered.
The troop spotted the targets, some of them pierced with bullet holes, when it was touring the headquarters of Farmington Hills Police Department in April.
A Boy Scout troop spotted the targets, some shot through, while touring the Farmington Hills police department. Photo via Dionne Webster-Cox
In one photo from the tour, six white Scouts are looking at the targets—the same image of a Black man with a menacing look and pointing a gun—while a Black boy Scout stands behind them.
An unidentified person who attended the visit, represented by attorney Dionne Webster-Cox, first reported the use of the images.
“When those children were exposed to those images, to me it was the potential detrimental effects on how they view Black men and Black people that was indescribable,” Webster-Cox told VICE News. “It’s literally profiling for the Black man. You've got young police officers and this is what they're being trained on?”
The targets, which have since been removed, are now the subject of a legal review, Mayor Vicki Barnett said at a public city council meeting on Monday.
At the meeting, Farmington Police Chief Jeff King apologized. “I’ll take this one on the chin,” King said. “I apologize to each and every person in this room, this community, my department, my city council, my city manager. I can’t overlook this.”
He also told the meeting the images were purchased but didn’t say where from, or if they are of actual people.
But King told VICE News the use of the images of Black men was taken out of context.
“A diverse group of targets were on display the day of the tour—not just targets featuring Black people,” King said. “Unfortunately, this was not accurately depicted in the photographs, as the photographs only depict a small area of the department’s firing range and a select number of the targets that were presented and discussed during the group tour.”
Scouts touring the Farmington Hill Police Department shooting gallery. Photo via Dionne Webster-Cox
He said the department uses images of a dozen different people, 10 of whom are white and two Black, in line with Michigan’s Commission on Law Enforcement Standards, as well as the city’s demographics. (Farmington Hills is 18.5 percent Black and 62 percent white, according to the 2020 U.S. census.)
Assistant Chief Jon Piggott told VICE News that officers normally train on silhouettes and bull’s eyes when measuring accuracy, and only use images of people once they start training officers on threat assessment. While the default targets are all holding guns, their hands can be swapped out to hold a beer can, a cellphone, or nothing at all.
“Because now, it’s not a question of whether or not the officer can hit the target,” Piggot said. “The question now is… whether or not the thing that they’re looking at is a danger to them or not.”
For Webster-Cox, however, the explanation doesn’t change the fact that Black men were primarily presented as targets the day kids got to see the shooting gallery.
“This is not acceptable. You don't want your children to just start off hating,” she said.
This wasn’t the first time the department has been under scrutiny for the targets it uses for shooting practice. Last July, the Michigan American Civil Liberties Union filed a freedom of information request asking the police department to disclose images of “any gun range targets used by the police department from January 2020,” according to Webster-Cox. The organization received images of other, non-Black targets that were not on display at the time of the Boys Scouts tour.
The Michigan ACLU did immediately confirm to VICE News what prompted the filing of the records request.
The city of Farmington Hills has been working to address its diversity problem. In October 2021, the Michigan Diversity Council agreed to assess the city’s strengths and weaknesses when it comes to hiring workers, including Black cops. In return, the city agreed to create a diversity council that would help make its hiring practices more inclusive.
Follow Trone Dowd on Twitter.