Malik Aziz (left) speaks during a March 26 press conference at the Wayne K. Curry Administration Building in Largo, Maryland, to announce him as Prince George’s County's new police chief. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)
Malik Aziz (left) speaks during a March 26 press conference at the Wayne K. Curry Administration Building in Largo, Maryland, to announce him as Prince George’s County's new police chief. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)

Lt. Sonya Zollicoffer, a 20-year veteran of the Prince George’s County Police Department, listened to Malik Aziz’s words carefully as he talked about supporting the community and its law enforcement officials.

“He sounded like a chief,” she said.

“He has the experience and I hope he brings that experience with him. I am giving him a chance to make the right decisions but actions speak louder than words,” said Zollicoffer who also counts among several plaintiffs of both current and former Black and Latino officers in an ongoing lawsuit against the department.

Now, after nine months of interviews, phone calls and reviewing resumes, County Executive Angela Alsobrooks selected Aziz to serve as the new police chief for Prince George’s.

Aziz, 52, works as deputy chief for the city of Dallas Police Department in Texas where he’s spent his entire career – 29 years including his first assignment as a patrol officer.

Interim chief Hector Velez will remain in charge until Aziz takes the helm May 9.

“Nothing is more important to me than pubic service,” Aziz said after being introduced by Alsobrooks on Friday, March 26. “I want the citizens and the officers of Prince George’s County to understand what type of chief I will be. That is one of communication and high visibility – one who listens and one who will act with resolution.”

Aziz understands the challenges of the job. He worked to rebuild relationships in Dallas in the aftermath of a July 2016 Black Lives Matter protest during which seven people died including five police officers.

“His record was the thing that spoke the most volume to me,” Alsobrooks said. “I read through his actions [to better understand] who he was before I heard his words.”

The County Council must still confirm Aziz’s hiring but top level officials say they fully expect the choice made by Alsobrooks to be supported.

“I stand here on behalf of the other 10 members of the County Council to say, ‘Welcome. We’re looking forward to working with you,’” said County Council Chair Calvin Hawkins II who attended Friday’s announcement.

On a national level, Aziz served as the former chair of the National Black Police Association and visited the White House during Barack Obama’s presidency as part of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Academically, he received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Arlington and later earned his MBA at the University of Dallas.

New Chief Must Tackle Hot Issue of Police Reform

Aziz arrives as a police reform task force which Alsobrooks assembled continues to implement 46 of 50 recommendations which include: mental health programs, creating an office of integrity and compliance and incorporating training to prevent racial profiling.

He must also deal with a pending lawsuit filed in December 2018 that alleges a preponderance of racist and retaliatory practices within the department of more than 1,500 officers and 300 civilian employees.

As Alsobrooks searched for a new chief of police, criminal justice advocates and residents submitted a list of demands for the department and its new leader that includes: requiring trial board hearings of officer misconduct to be both public and available online; firing and/or prosecuting officers with records of abuse against Blacks or Latinos; and empowering the citizens oversight panel to impose, discipline and allow members to be chosen through a more community-oriented process from each of the seven police districts.

Another complaint that Alsobrooks has recently faced addressed the amount of participation, or lack thereof, that county residents had in the process to hire a new chief.

Tonya Sweat of Accokeek, a candidate for county executive, said the 3,546 respondents of the police chief survey aren’t enough in a county comprised of more than 900,000 residents.

“The way [Alsobrooks] portrayed how the community had input . . . was not the case. It was not widely advertised,” she said. “At the end of the day, it is her decision. But if we want to complain, let us complain. If we want to comment, then let us comment. There should have been more community input than just 3,546.”

NAACP Leader, Members Like Aziz

Linda Thomas Thornton, president of the county’s NAACP branch, said Aziz has agreed to talk with members of the organization sometime this month during a Zoom call.

Thomas Thornton, who temporarily lived in Dallas nearly a decade ago during an extended work assignment, said she “found the city to be safe,” and noted that Aziz received a good rating from the local NAACP group in Dallas on his work with and connection to the community.

“The [Prince George’s NAACP] members I’ve heard from are pleased and wanted someone who has experience in neighborhoods like those here in Prince George’s County,” she said. “We wanted a person to be versatile. He also has experience. I like experience.”

Aziz declined to comment on the pending suit but said involving the community with the job of effective policing remains an integral part of his leadership style.

“The landscape of policing is forever evolving and police are adapting to new and changing times” he said. “We have to present ourselves to that environment because the community deserves it and they demand it. I intend to deliver the core concepts of 21st century policing throughout Prince George’s County.”

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Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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