The East Lansing Independent Police Oversight Commission pressed the East Lansing Police Department [ELPD] during its Feb. 1 meeting to make changes to policies regarding data collection and how the department deploys social workers.
ELPD currently has only one social worker on staff.
During the Wednesday meeting, commissioners questioned Capt. Chad Pride on when social workers are deployed to situations involving the police and why this isn’t always captured fully in ELPD reports.
Commissioner Amanda Morgan asked Pride why there was not a social worker dispatched to a call on Dec. 11, 2022, that, according to the “Response to Resistance” report provided to the commission, involved a “welfare check of an intoxicated female” who said “she wanted to kill herself twice.”
Pride told Morgan that, since the social worker only works during the day, there are incidents of people in crisis that ELPD cannot respond to with a social worker in tow.
Other commissioners raised similar concerns about police response to citizens in crisis. Commissioner Ron Fink asked Pride about another December incident that involved an 18-year-old Black woman who the “Response to Resistance” report classified as “a possible suicidal subject.” In this case, though the report indicates a social worker was dispatched, Fink pointed out it is unclear from the report if the social worker was involved in the situation.
Fink questioned ELPD’s response on this matter and also wondered why, as indicated by the report, only white officers were sent. “I don’t think that would make her feel comfortable,” Fink told Pride.
In response to Fink’s questions, Pride said police officers typically arrive on scene before social workers. He added ELPD is hesitant to put social workers in potentially dangerous situations and that all social workers have different levels of comfort.
Commissioner Jamie White addressed Fink’s point about the white officers responding to a distressed Black woman, saying Fink’s suggestion the community does not trust the police is an “overreach.”
“I don’t agree with the idea that we should spend time finding African American officers when someone’s life is in danger,” White said.
Morgan, who is a social worker, said based on her training and experience, Fink raised some fair points. Morgan added that even though ELPD does have a social worker on staff, there is still a lack of knowledge on how to effectively use them in situations of crisis.
Commissioner Sharon Hobbs suggested ELPD look into utilizing volunteers with a psychology or social work background to bridge the gap in coverage instead of “one poor social worker who’s supposed to be the answer for every mental health challenge.”
“I like that idea,” Pride responded, adding that “any recommendations from the commission are welcome.”
Further changes seem to be in the works for ELPD.
Pride also told the Oversight Commission that ELPD is working on putting together mobile crisis units in conjunction with the Michigan State University Department of Police and Public Safety [MSU DPPS]. Pride said the departments are looking into starting a pilot program this summer.
Pride also reported ELPD held a meeting with Community Mental Health about how ELPD can better respond to incidents involving people in crisis. Pride said they discussed giving officers tablets that could give immediate access to telehealth appointments with professionals who can also help guide officers on how best to handle a situation.
In Pride’s estimation, this will better help people in the midst of crisis and help put officers back on the street more quickly after handling a situation.
ELPD is also training more officers on CIT [Crisis Intervention Team]. This training is designed to help officers better understand how to handle people experiencing mental health crises. According to Pride, ELPD currently has about 15 officers with CIT training and another seven who will begin training in March.
The commission is still after better data – an ongoing concern of some commissioners.
The commission discussed the CNA report that was presented to City Council in December 2022. This report was based on a study commissioned by the city from the CNA’s Center for Justice Research and Innovation, a Virginia-based nonprofit.
Chair Erick Williams asked commissioners what they should prioritize in terms of addressing the findings of the report. Seven commissioners also submitted written explanations of what they saw as the commission’s top priorities.
Vice Chair Chris Root and others pressed the group to consider the importance of effective data collection. Root said capturing better and more consistent data would help the ELPD and community. She pushed for the commission to have a comprehensive plan by 2024.
“I think that would be an enormous step forward,” Root said.
The CNA report pointed out several ELPD policies that are lacking in terms of collecting and recording data related to police interactions with civilians.
Other commissioners hesitated to make data such a high priority. Both Ernest Conerly and Sharon Hobbs raised the issue of low police morale, as indicated in the CNA report, and a lack of trust between the community and police officers.
Hobbs said the thing most “troubling” to her was the “us and them” mentality between the community and the police. She argued that even if no more data was collected, the commission already has enough information about community mistrust and the disparities in police interactions between white and Black residents.
Root argued that data collection is relevant to these other concerns. “I care about data because I care about people,” Root said.
She emphasized that keeping better track of how police are interacting with people will give the community a better picture of East Lansing policing and continue the commission’s role of addressing racial inequity in the city.
Pride told the commission that ELPD is working to update their policies as based on the report’s recommendations, but that they are also invested in hearing recommendations from the Oversight Commission.
“The invitation is out there,” Pride said. “It’s always good to have an outside view of different policies, things that we do, because sometimes our eyes are focused on the inside.”
Pride also indicated ELPD has made changes over the last few years and more recently to address these concerns and told the commission that Deputy Chief Chad Connelly is coordinating ELPD’s plan of action regarding the CNA report.
After a lengthy discussion, the commission passed a motion to invite Connelly to a future meeting to discuss in detail how ELPD is adapting to the report.