Farmington Hills police chief addresses photo controversy of only using targets of Black men

Pictures made headlines across the country

Police training in Farmington Hills has come under scrutiny after images of Black men used for what appeared to be target practice showed up in pictures taken during a Boy Scouts tour of the department.

FARMINGTON HILLS, Mich. – Police training in Farmington Hills has come under scrutiny after images of Black men used for what appeared to be target practice showed up in pictures taken during a Boy Scouts tour of the department.

Those pictures made headlines across the country but without a lot of contexts.

Farmington Hills Police Chief Jeff King apologized at a packed city council meeting last month while standing by his officers’ training.

After that, King reached out to Local 4 because he wanted the community to understand the training and why images are used.

Seen in the video player above is a look inside their training facility as the photos from the Boy Scouts are still being widely discussed in the community.

Read: Farmington Hills Chief denies only using targets of Black men

King has had many calls and emails, especially after the story went national.

“I hope the next time there’s a Boy Scout troop down there that that’s not what they’re seeing,” said the spokesperson for the family who took the photos, Dionne Webster-Cox. “I hope they are seeing diversity.”

For the first time, Local 4 has obtained the photos that were taken during the Boy Scouts tour of the Farmington Hills Police Department in April.

Downstairs in the training range was a row of images of Black men, some of which were marked by bullet holes.

The spouse of a parent who took the photos contacted Webster-Cox, who is a lawyer in Southfield and a social justice advocate.

“When I saw those pictures, I was outraged,” Webster-Cox said. “All I know is that I was scared. I was afraid for those children. That’s what I know because that’s our future, and what were they being taught?”

King says the pictures seen in the video player above, while troubling, do not tell the full story.

“They were of the same two areas,” King said. “This area with four targets hanging and then one targeted at the head of our range that had no bullet holes on it whatsoever. What was not in that photo was 11 to 12 additional targets, none of which were African American.”

When we think of target practice, we think of the usual blank silhouettes. But seen in the video player above are images police use for situational awareness training, which are images of real, diverse people in various situations.

“This image right here (Caucasian man pointing gun) in the four years we’ve purchased 850,” King said. “And each one of these images (seen in the video player above), we’ve purchased 150. So this is the primary image that we use. For everything, we do both training, situational awareness, and qualification.”

The images seen in the video player above are approved by the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards (MCOLES).

Another set of images were from a national use-of-force training provider called MILO.

None of the images are produced by the Farmington Hills Police Department.

“I would not recommend having all one race or having all one sex,” said Morris Cotton. “I think we need to have a diverse population of targets that we are looking at.”

Cotton is the former Chief of police for Highland Park and currently sits on the Farmington Hills Citizen’s Police Advisory Committee.

“Farmington Hills, I believe, have about a 19% minority Black population,” Cotton said. “Out of 1,100 targets, I believe we’re down to less than 10% of those targets that was purchased, which reflected the minority population.”

Situational Awareness Training aims to be as realistic as possible as it is supposed to reflect the demographics and scenarios officers face in the real world.

“The conditions, the lightning, the noise, the images that they see, they’ll see the same image over and over again, and that image may have a handgun in their hand, and that image may not have a handgun,” King said. “If we see an officer responding inappropriately to a specific target, we want to be able to identify that we want to address that, and we want to correct that. And that’s what a variety of targets allows us to do.”

“I understand that in order to do your job, you have to train,” Webster-Cox said. “I get that. But what was happening that day? I don’t know what happens any other day. I just know what I saw, what the picture is reflected that day.”

In light of the controversy, the city has removed all the images as a third party investigates.

While King stands by the training, he apologizes for the pain caused by those photos.

“The heart of the matter is that was what we had on our range that day, and we didn’t accurately portray, or we were, we were we didn’t accurately portray what our training actually was that night,” King said. “So it kind of opened the door for someone to present it as that, and that’s our fault. And we’ll, we’ll make adjustments, and we’ll correct that in any way, shape, or form that that should.”

King said the incident was a teachable moment, and he pointed out that the department is one of the best in the State.

There are about 600 law enforcement agencies in Michigan. Thirty-eight have been accredited, and only eight have been re-accredited, making the Farmington Hills Police Department the largest department to achieve that status.

The assessment period spans three years, and the agency must prove they’ve met more than a 100 industry standards.

About the Authors:

Priya joined WDIV-Local 4 in 2013 as a reporter and fill-in anchor. Education: B.A. in Communications/Post Grad in Advanced Journalism

Brandon Carr is a digital content producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with WDIV Local 4 since November 2021. Brandon is the 2015 Solomon Kinloch Humanitarian award recipient for Community Service.