Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks has chosen Malik Aziz, a 29-year veteran of the Dallas Police Department, to be the county’s new chief of police.
Alsobrooks made the announcement Friday during a news conference, where she was joined by Aziz, who called Prince George’s County a “shining star” in the D.C. region.
Aziz will take over for Hector Velez as interim police chief May 9, although he still needs to be confirmed by the Prince George’s County Council.
Alsobrooks said she made her choice after a nine-month nationwide search with “significant” input from the community. When residents were asked about what qualities they wanted in a police chief, Alsobrooks said “the top were trust and engagement with the community, as well as more personal connections with the police officers serving our neighborhoods.”
“One of the areas of Deputy Chief Aziz’s background that particularly stuck out to me was his consistent focus and leadership in the area of community policing,” she said, noting that he also has a strong record of crime reduction.
Aziz began his career as a patrol officer in Dallas, rising to become deputy chief of the city’s police department in 2012. A former executive director of the National Black Police Association, Aziz is widely seen as a reformer and strong proponent of community policing.
“Police-community relations have been important to me over three decades in law enforcement,” he said, describing current relations as a “national crisis.”
“We have stopped talking to each other and with each other, and now we’re just talking at each other and not listening.”
During a presentation to the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Police, created in December 2014, Aziz made the statement that “there’s no us versus them. There’s only us.”
That statement grabbed the attention of President Obama, who invited Aziz to the White House for a discussion on policing.
“And that propelled me even further into community policing,” Aziz recalled.
“We often talk about community policing and crime reduction, and to me, they are one and the same. They do not exist without the other,” he said. “And the community demands the right to be policed a certain way and we actually have to deliver that way to the community in which we serve.”
On that note, among Aziz’s priorities will be to implement the 46 recommendations of a police reform task force created by Alsobrooks to tackle allegations of racism that have dogged the Prince George’s Police Department.
The county’s former police chief, Hank Stawinski, resigned in June 2020 following a report by the American Civil Liberties Union in which 13 officers detailed “pervasive and widespread” discrimination and racial bias in the department.
In February 2021, an unredacted report backed up the lawsuit brought by the ACLU and Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association that alleged systemic racism inside the department.
That report was written by Michael Graham, a former senior officer for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, who claimed that the Prince George’s department failed to ensure that discrimination complaints remained confidential as they moved up the chain of command.
He also alleged that officers who did complain were retaliated against, “in that they are transferred or otherwise removed from their jobs and sometimes face counter-charges.”
In addition, Graham faulted the department for not investigating internal complaints of racial bias — or reports of excessive police force against minority civilians.
But a more recent report — unsealed March 9 and written by Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger — supported the department and refuted the allegations made by Graham.
For example, in response to claims that the department retaliated against officers who spoke up about racial issues, the Manger report showed that some of the officers were transferred for other reasons.
It also countered that the lack of minority officers was not for lack of trying, but rather part of a larger problem in recruiting officers. The report also noted that three of the department’s five chiefs are Black or Hispanic.
But police reform continues to be a hot-button issue. In mid-March, the Maryland House of Delegates approved an extensive police reform package that, among other measures, would repeal job protections for officers in misconduct cases, require body cameras by 2025 and put limitations on no-knock warrants. (The bill must be reconciled with the Senate version before being sent to Gov. Larry Hogan.)
Aziz did not comment on the ongoing lawsuit brought by the ACLU and Hispanic National Law, which the county has already spent millions of dollars defending itself against.
But he pledged to be a voice for both the county’s citizens and its officers.
He vowed to be transparent, reach out to the public, listen to their concerns and treat people with dignity and respect.
Aziz also said he will hold listening sessions with members of the police department and prioritize officer safety and wellness and “make people feel valued at the workplace.”
Alsobrooks said she chose Aziz to be the next police chief in part because of his ability to “strike the perfect balance of caring for the officers … and for the community members that he serves.”
She also praised his desire to be at the forefront of police reforms being adopted in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“In this moment of reform in our country … he wanted to be at the table and at forefront of those reforms,” Alsobrooks said. “And that he believed there were certain jurisdictions that will change policing in America forever and that Prince George’s County was one of those jurisdictions where that kind of change and reform can happen. I thought that was something that was really profound.”
As part of Maryland Matters’ content sharing agreement with WTOP, we feature this article from Anna Gawel. Click here for the WTOP News website.