Last Sunday, three officers with the Prince George’s County, MD Police Department were shot by two gunmen as the officers were responding to a call about a home invasion. Video of the dramatic ambush attack was captured on one of the officer’s dash-cam. PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler spoke with Interim Chief Hector Velez about the incident and video message he sent to the agency discussing the shooting. 


Wexler: Tell me about this incident. 

Chief Velez: I was actually returning from getting my kids settled in at college, and I received a text message saying, “three officers shot.” I did a double-take, because that’s not something you expect to see. When I realized I read it correctly, it took me a second to think of the possibilities. As a chief, you have to expect the worst.  

Almost immediately, my phone started ringing with calls from my deputy chiefs and various commanders. They were quick to jump in and let me know they were in route or find out where they were needed. So I was very confident that everything would be handled appropriately. 

I was immediately informed that none of the injuries were life-threatening, which was good to know. The complete picture would not come in for quite a while, but I knew our officers received a call for service for a home invasion. They responded to the scene, and the first officer who arrived got out of his car, saw two individuals walking towards a parked car, tried to engage them in conversation, and they immediately opened fire. That officer was able to return fire, but he was struck three times in that exchange.  

Within seconds, his backup officers arrived. They went to his aid. The individuals got in the vehicle, drove away, then turned around and engaged our officers again. Two additional officers were struck.  

The vehicle ended up crashing a short distance away, and our officers were able to apprehend them without further injury. Our officers then immediately shifted from apprehension mode to taking care of their fellow officers’ injuries.  

The officers were transported to the hospital, and fortunately they were all okay and are doing well now. The initial responding officer was struck in the leg, neck, and chest. The other two were struck in the foot and grazed in the back. One officer was released the night of the incident. Another officer was released the next morning. And the third had surgery and should be released in the next several days.  

Wexler: What was your reaction when you saw the footage of the incident? 

Chief Velez: When I saw the footage, I was surprised at how the individuals seemed to be giving little thought to the consequences of what they were doing. They appear and just start firing. 

Hearing the gunshots and the number of rounds fired, I immediately thought about how I would have felt and how I would have responded to that incident. And that’s a scary thought.  

Wexler: Why did you send a video message out to the whole department? 

Chief Velez: The following morning I received a briefing and reviewed the video footage. After seeing that, I thought the public needed to see it. They need to see what officers face on a daily basis and the real dangers of being a police officer. I also thought that it wouldn’t be right to release it to general public before informing the officers involved that it would be released, letting them view it if they wanted, and allowing the police department to view it. That tells the officers that we’re thinking about their feelings throughout all of this. Oftentimes we get so wrapped up in operational decisions that we forget how those decisions will impact the officers. I thought it was important for them to understand that I care about them and support them, this community cares about them and supports them, and the councilmembers and county executive care about them and support them. 

That’s why I put this video together and sent it out to the officers. I also had a conversation with the FOP president, because I think it’s important to make sure they’re part of the discussion and okay with my decision. 

Wexler: Did all the stressors from the past few months, including the pandemic, the protests, and the national discussion about police reform, factor into your decision to send a video message out to the department? 

Chief Velez: Yes. Prior to this incident I was thinking about making a video to send out to the officers. I’ve been trying to make it around to all the roll calls, but, due to this pandemic, a lot of our roll calls are held out in the field. It’s made it difficult, and it would take me about a year and a half to make it to all the roll calls. I didn’t think the message could wait that long. I need to let them know that these are difficult times – policing is going through a lot on the national stage, we’re dealing with COVID, and they have their own personal issues in their lives. But they need to know that we support them, care about them, and are here for them. 

Wexler: What has been the response to this incident in the department and in the community? 

Chief Velez: I’ve received a lot of emails and phone calls of support from community members, council members, and faith-based organizations. 

Within the agency, our officers are resilient. But these are different times. I’ve told some of the squads I’ve visited that what they’re going through now is much more psychologically challenging that what I faced 10 or 15 years ago. They understand the dangers of the job, and they want to know that they are supported and we recognize the sacrifices they are making. I’ve received a number of emails from the membership thanking me for being considerate, sending the email out, allowing them to view the video, and letting them know that we support them. 

Wexler: How has your command staff helped you throughout this incident? 

Chief Velez: Knowing that I have the right people in the right places, doing what needs to be done allows me to focus on the soft side of this, which is focusing on the officers, their families, and communicating the severity of this incident and the heroic acts of these officers to the community. Because the community rarely hears about that.  

I could not be prouder of these officers. The two suspects were apprehended without further incident, and they quickly shifted to taking care of each other. The officer who was shot three times is incredible. He got on the radio, notified the dispatcher that he’d been hit, started to put on his own tourniquet, and called his father, who is an officer with our agency, to tell him what was going on.  

One big problem we see with emergency incidents is people self-dispatching to scenes and clogging up roadways. In the midst of everything going on, our officers were cognizant of that, making sure that the roadway remained clear for fire department personnel.  

I was very impressed by their response.  

Wexler: Tell me a bit about your career. Did you always want to be a police officer?  

Chief Velez: I’ve been with the Prince George’s County Police Department for a little over 26 years. I knew it was my calling to serve when I became a police explorer. I was 14 years old, and an officer took an interest in me and took me under his wing. He introduced me to police exploring, and that’s when I knew what my calling was.  

After high school I entered the military. I was a military police officer for six years stationed in Frankfurt, Germany and Fort Meade, Maryland. Fort Meade is where I left the military and became a police officer. I worked for the Howard County, Maryland Police Department for five years, then lateraled over to Prince George’s County. 

Wexler: I remember the first time we met, at PERF’s Senior Management Institute for Police, because you apprehended someone who had just committed a robbery on the street in Boston. 

Chief Velez: Yes, someone attempted to rob a lady returning home with her luggage. I was walking and heard somebody yelling “help” and “stop him.” I knew what direction the yelling was coming from and saw this guy running right at me. He started running across the street. I ran across the street, told him to stop, and when he kept running at me I buried my shoulder into his stomach, flipped him over, held him, and told someone nearby to call the police.  


The PERF Critical Issues Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting this work.