Two Midland, Texas police officers were suspended for three days after the police department learned of a panhandling game.
According to the Associated Press, Derek Hester, 25, and 26-year-old Daniel Zoelzer, were suspended without pay for competing in a game to see who could steal the most cardboard signs from the homeless.
The news agency also reported how:
…eight signs were found in the trunk of Hester’s patrol car on Nov. 20 and Zoelzer had thrown about 10 signs he had confiscated into a city trash container after Hester called him to warn him he had been reprimanded by his superior for having the signs.
Although there isn’t a city ordinance that forbids the homeless from panhandling, both officers claimed that they were issuing trespass warnings. However, there were no records to prove this.
Public scrutiny has now prompted the department to take action against the officers who have only been with the Midland police division for two years.
Police Chief Price Robinson reportedly said that the officers didn’t deserve a harsher punishment since their actions concerned another department.
However, homeless advocacy groups believe otherwise. One attorney in the Odessa Office of the Texas Civil Rights Project described how she felt about the officers’ immature game.
“The fact that they are making sport out of collecting the personal property of homeless individuals could be seen as them targeting these individuals for discriminatory harassment,” Cassandra Champion told the AP.
In addition to their suspension, Hester and Zoelzer are being investigated for failing to report evidence received during a November 18 patrol stop.
Robinson said that officers were recently reminded of the appropriate behavior expected of them, which is outlined in the department’s professional standards of conduct.
“We want to respect people, no matter who they are — homeless, whatever,” Robinson said. “That situation’s been dealt with. Those officers understand.”
A message posted on the department’s website may also be in connection to what has occurred recently:
The members of the Midland Police Department are committed to working with the public to provide law enforcement services to all. We will provide these services in an effective, efficient, and professional manner to insure that Midland is a quality community in which to live, work, visit and play
The department greatly appreciates the positive relationship that exists between the citizens of our community and our police force. Our officers are highly professional in their skills and are very sensitive to the concerns of our community.
Image via Wikimedia Commons