Near the end of a four-and-a-half hour meeting– much of which was taken up by citizen comment on Officer Andrew Stephenson – this week East Lansing’s City Council briefly discussed two actions related to policing and indicated interest in moving ahead on both.
One would be a new ordinance to create a misdemeanor punishable for up to 90 days for “weaponizing the police.” The other is a draft resolution aimed at making more transparent when East Lansing Police officers have used force or been the subject of complaints.
Both proposals stem from Council member Lisa Babcock’s five proposals for policing reform.
“Weaponizing the police” as described by Babcock is the intentional action of using the police improperly by both providing false information and incorporating prejudice on grounds like race, gender identity and disabilities.
Babcock cited the case of Amy Cooper calling the police on a Black birder in New York City as an example of “weaponizing the police.”
Babcock also sought to make clear this misdemeanor is meant to be distinct from the existing crime of filing a false police report — claiming something lost was stolen, for instance. The difference, Babcock said, is the element of bias and “it is something this is fictitious or trumped up.”
Council member Mark Meadows agreed with Babcock’s idea and suggested City Attorney Tom Yeadon draft language for the proposed ordinance so a public hearing can be set. Babcock and Beier concurred with Meadows on this plan.
Yeadon may have the language prepared for the Council’s next meeting on June 30.
Babcock’s proposed resolution on temporary police oversight calls for (1) complaints about policing and (2) reports on all incidents involving use of force to be forwarded to Council, the soon-to-be-named Study Committee on Independent Police Oversight, the Human Relations Commission, and several other members of city staff.
If the resolution goes forward as drafted, allegations of excessive force would also be forwarded to the Ingham County prosecutor for possible bringing of charges.
The referral of complaints within East Lansing is to happen within three business days of a complaint being filed and is supposed to include all case reports along with video recordings related to the incident in the complaint.
Within seven days of receiving the complaint and associated materials, the Director of Human Resources and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Administrator for the City will provide a recommendation to the police chief. (Elaine Hardy was just named as the first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Administrator for the City.)
But City Manager George Lahanas asked that any advice coming from City staff back to the police chief actually be offered to him, as the police is under his purview. (So, Hardy would not speak directly to the police chief but rather to Lahanas, who would handle her concerns.)
“The system as it was wasn’t working,” Babcock said at Council this week about the way things have been going. “There was no transparency. I understand the need to protect the investigation” when police are actively looking into a crime, but, she said, “We have to do something that moves it in this direction.”
Council member Jessy Gregg asked just how much material Council is privy to in open cases and how this resolution’s content would work alongside existing rules.
Speaking as City Attorney, Yeadon noted that what is outlined in the resolution for referral is minimal — the complaint report and video — and so the Council can require they get those materials. But, Yeadon said, the police prefer to keep investigations internal, and that’s why the Council hasn’t gotten information in the past.
“I think I speak for many on Council when I say that we were humiliated — it’s not too strong a word — to discover after the [Tito] Gasito incident that there was a prior incident we were not informed about,” Babcock said of learning about the complaint from Anthony Loggins Jr. (That chain of events led to this proposed ordinance.)
Lahanas added he can meet with the police command to see what they’d want to provide. The police department wants to get videos and other pertinent information out faster, Lahanas said.
“I’m generally in favor of us having whatever information we can have and I’d prefer it be somewhat more automated than it is now,” Gregg said. “I like the intent behind this, but the specific language might have to be adjusted.”
Meadows agreed with Gregg that the language needs changing and sought to clarify what Council would release to the public. Under the resolution as written, Meadows said, Council doesn’t actually have any role other than receiving materials.
His suggestion was that the Council be notified when a complaint is filed, then get all the materials once a resolution is reached, so that that can be reviewed.
Meadows and Babcock will work together to alter language and have a draft prepared for Council’s meeting on July 14.
Mayor Pro-Tem Aaron Stephens followed up on Meadows’ discussion of what’s available to the public. Yeadon said the materials should be released if requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Stephens then suggested that if the documents are effectively open to the public, Council should eliminate charges often associated with FOIA requests made to ELPD.
“If we’re going to make it basically public, should we just make it public?” he asked.
Meadows added that Council also has the power to waive an exemption under FOIA, meaning even if ELPD and the City Attorney had grounds to not release materials, the Council can still decide to do so.
On the question of fees, Meadows said, the City could answer any FOIA by just posting material at no charge to the city’s website.
Stephens pushed for an addition to the draft resolution to allow for dropping of charges by prosecutors against someone who was found to be the victim of excessive force. But Babcock argued it would be unnecessary, because prosecutors have the discretion to raise, lower, or drop charges altogether.
Babcock also reminded Council members that this resolution is meant to provide temporary interventions while a study committee works to enable creation of an oversight board.
“This is not to usurp what the study committee comes up with or what the subsequent oversight commission does,” Babcock said. “This is just to fill it in to allow them to take the amount of time necessary to come up with a process.”