Reaction: Hyattsville chief resigns for Anne Arundel

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Michael Theis/Route 1 Reporter

Hyattsville's police chief, Amal Awad, stands next to her wife Jade Awad during her swearing-in ceremony Dec. 13, 2018. To the left is former Hyattsville police chief Doug Holland.

Less than two years after being sworn in, Hyattsville’s Police Chief Amal Awad announced she will resign in December to be the chief of police in Anne Arundel County. 

“Leaving Hyattsville is bittersweet,” said Awad during a press conference announcing her appointment to the Anne Arundel County chief’s job. “I’m fervently thankful to the city of Hyattsville for allowing me to serve as their chief of police.”

“Chief Awad has demonstrated extraordinary leadership, depth of knowledge, professionalism, and grace in her service to the City of Hyattsville over the past three years,” said Mayor Candace Hollingsworth, who also recently announced her own resignation, in a statement.

“I was only able to work with her for a short time, but she deserves a lot of credit for the direction of the department and I am excited for her and for the opportunities that are coming her way,” said Hyattsville City Councilor Daniel Peabody. “I will very much miss working with her in the city of Hyattsville.”

“During her time as Hyattsville chief, Awad modernized her department, won the respect of her officers and her community and worked through the challenges faced by police departments across the country,” Said Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman. “She is a peacemaker and a consummate professional.”

Awad was sworn in as Hyattsville’s police chief Dec. 13, 2018. Awad had been working for Hyattsville since 2017. She was hired in a newly-created captain role to be former chief Doug Holland’s second-in-command. Before that, she worked as a chief of staff for then Anne Arundel County Chief of Police Kevin Davis. She started her career in the Prince George’s County Police Department in 1991, eventually rising to the rank of major and serving as the commander of the District 2 Bowie station of the county police force.

Under Awad’s tenure, the Hyattsville police department expanded its own diversity and anti-bias training, including programs where officers were led on guided tours of the African American History Museum. Awad also placed a major emphasis on officer mental health. This year, the department launched a mental health crisis response exploratory committee to research programs to support officers experiencing emotional distress. The department also recently hired a civilian media relations and mental health programs manager for the department. 

Awad’s tenure as chief of police for Hyattsville came with many firsts for the city. Awad was the first woman, the first African American, and the first openly LGBTQ individual to hold the chief of police office in Hyattsville. She was also the first Hyattsville chief of police to deal with the aftermath of fatal police shooting when Leonard Shand died in a hail of police gunfire at the tail end of a half-hour walking standoff in Sept. 2019.  

After Shand’s death, Awad won praise from city residents, religious leaders and local police reform activists for answering questions at a packed community forum to discuss the incident. But police reform activists heavily criticized Awad for re-instating several officers involved in the incident before a county investigation into Shand’s death was completed. Awad said this was necessary to address staffing shortages caused by the covid-19 pandemic. 

Behind the scenes, several City Council members were also dismayed by the move. During one meeting, Hyattsville City Councilor Edouard Haba speculated the re-instatement would not have won the approval of city council. Despite the fact that the chief of police reports to the city administrator, official city statements about the re-instatement were worded to attribute all of the responsibility for the move to Awad alone.

Nearly a year after the shooting, a Prince George’s County grand jury declined to indict any of the officers involved in Shand’s death. However, an investigative report commissioned by the county found major problems with how Awad’s officers handled the standoff, while concluding officers were ultimately justified in the moment they opened fire on Shand. 

From there, Hyattsville was planning to conduct an administrative investigation into the incident. 

Kema Harris, an activist who helped organize rallies and letter-writing campaigns to protest the department’s reinstatement of the officers, compared Awad’s resignation to that of former Prince George’s County Police Chief Hank Stawinski, who resigned after a report on discrimination within his department was released. 

“While we’re waiting on police reforms, police officers and chiefs are running for cover,” said Harris in a Facebook post. “We are being stalled while officers and chiefs within PGPD and municipalities in Prince George’s County, retire or find positions in other departments.”

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