Two Midland, Texas police officers have been suspended after it was discovered they created a competition to see who could steal the most signs from homeless people.
Officers Derek Hester and Daniel Zoelzer claim they didn’t know it was wrong to take the signs from the homeless. Zoelzer claims many panhandler signs are seen hanging on the walls of the Midland City Police Station.
When Officer Hester was interviewed by Internal Affairs Investigator Sgt. Craig Matthews, he admitted to the competition.
“He and Officer Zoelzer wanted to see who could get the most signs,” Matthews’ report says.
The Internal Affairs investigation also found the two officers failed to log evidence in recent cases. A pair of brass knuckles, a marijuana pipe, and a knife were all confiscated from residents without being documented.
Midland City Council Member Jeff Sparks spoke to CBS 7 recently about the officers' competition.
"I'm disappointed that we have a couple individuals that minimalize people that are homeless,” Sparks said. “To reduce that to any sort of competition to me was a very disappointing thing.”
The Midland Police Department released a statement of their own on the officers' suspensions.
“The Midland Police Department does not condone this type of behavior,” the statement said. “Public trust is of the utmost importance to us. Our personnel acted swiftly to report these isolated incidents, which I believe reflects the culture of accountability we have within the department."
As you can imagine, the officers' competition struck a sensitive chord among those who work with the homeless in the Midland community.
Evan Rodgers is the founder of Church Under the Bridge Midland. His organization works intimately with Midland’s homeless population. Here’s what he had to say about the competition.
"We all make mistakes and unfortunately these two guys did and it’s magnified by the type of profession they are in,” Rogers said. “They are there to protect and serve, no matter if it’s someone that is homeless or has an office job, so I was surprised that two people who work behind those badges would do something like this.”