By Sophie Gorman Oriani
In light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, six officers with the Hyattsville City Police Department (HCPD) who have been on administrative leave have returned to full duty.
The six officers have been on administrative leave since late September, pending the investigation of the Sept. 26 shooting of Leonard Shand. Placing officers on administrative leave after an officer-involved shooting is standard procedure.
“I made the decision to return the six officers to full-duty to ensure that the Department is able to meet the public safety demands of our City and that we are staffed to continue our law enforcement mission in the event any of our officers are affected by COVID-19,” wrote Chief of Police Amal Awad in an Apr. 14 press release.
The HCPD, like many police departments nationwide, has been struggling with staffing shortages that started well before the pandemic hit.
“The Department has been operating with minimum staffing for more than a year,” wrote Amal in the press release. “We simply cannot afford to continue operating at these levels as it could compromise officer response times and the safety of our City.”
“First and foremost, having as many resources as possible during a pandemic is prudent,” HCPD Deputy Chief Scott Dunklee advised in an April 27 email. “We are fortunate to not yet have any officers diagnosed [with COVID-19], but that can change at any moment,” he wrote, noting that some police departments across the country have seen their personnel reduced by as much as 20% due to the coronavirus.
Dunklee says the HCPD is taking “extraordinary measures” to protect their officers from getting ill while on the job. The HCPD has erected a decontamination tent in front of the municipal building. “We believe this decontamination practice for officers at the end of every shift is a first of its kind in the nation,” wrote Dunklee.
Dunklee added that while calls for service have remained “steady,” officers are being asked to provide extra community services, such as distributions of food and gift cards.
Following a May 4 car rally outside the Hyattsville Municipal Building, approximately a dozen community members submitted public comments to the city council in opposition to the reinstatement of the officers. Paul and Tracy Shand, the brother and sister of Leonard Shand, weighed in, saying that they were “extremely concerned” with the decision to reinstate the officers. “We believe this decision may put the public more at risk,” they wrote.
Councilmember Joseph Solomon (Ward 5) wrote in an April 24 email that the decision to return the officers to full-duty status was the “sole prerogative” of Awad. “This was done without input from the City Council,” he wrote.
“I do want to remind the community that the decision was not made lightly,” said City Administrator Tracey Douglas at the May 4 city council meeting. “Preliminarily, the command staff conducted an executive review of the unfortunate death of Mr. Shand [and] determined that the actions were consistent with departmental policy.”
Mayor Candace Hollingsworth requested a meeting between the Race and Equity Task Force and the Police and Public Safety Advisory Committee to discuss the Shand shooting, but that meeting has not yet been held. “I’ll just candidly say that the Police and Public Safety Advisory Committee was not comfortable in having that discussion in that way around this incident,” she said, citing hesitations on behalf of the Police and Public Safety Advisory Committee to discuss an ongoing investigation.
“I am still very much interested, and I know that the Race and Equity Task Force is still very much interested in having this conversation about what … we need to explore following that particular incident and what can we learn from it,” said Hollingsworth.
The investigation into the shooting of Leonard Shand, which is being handled by the Prince George’s County Police Department (PGCPD), is ongoing. According to the city’s press release, there are no updates on the status of that investigation available. Dunklee wrote that HCPD is in contact with PGCPD about the investigation, saying “If at any point it becomes apparent our officers’ duty status needs to change, we will act immediately to do so.”