East Lansing’s Independent Police Oversight Commission met this Monday to discuss data collection, budgetary concerns, and public forums, but notably did not discuss use of force reports or the complaints filed against the East Lansing Police Department.
The Commission, which began meeting in December 2021, is still in the process of getting situated, which includes tasks like website design, drafting forms for the complaint process, and a host of other things that will dictate how this Commission functions moving forward.
Data collection and presentation continues to dominate the discussion.
There was much debate about what data the Commission should collect as they moved forward with its oversight duties.
Chair Erick Williams suggested that though the Commission is gathering data from use of force reports and submitted complaints, the group should also pursue more data from ELPD that includes all police encounters with individuals.
Commissioner Benjamin Hughes, who presented a detailed spreadsheet of the data available to the Commission so far, wondered if having that much data would obfuscate the oversight’s mission of identifying patterns in police officer behavior, including which individual officers tend to use force and which groups of residents tend to have the most interactions with police.
“Where do we draw the line?” Hughes said, adding that he thinks use of force reports and information from traffic stops should be enough to see patterns, in his opinion.
Hughes’ spreadsheet included demographic information about police officers and aggregated information from the use of force reports, like the gender and race of individuals involved and details from each incident.
The Commission discussed what other data they would like to collect from police so they could incorporate it into the spreadsheet. Identifying situations that involved minors and people experiencing homelessness or a mental health crisis were passed by Commissioners as some of the categories they would like ELPD to track and send to them.
Council member Dana Watson, who serves as a Council liaison to the Commission, lauded Hughes’ spreadsheet, pointing out that it can be difficult to synthesize the qualitative reports that are provided by ELPD into easy-to-ingest data that one can use to see patterns in behavior.
Commissioner Ernest Conerly asked why the Commission was focusing on expanding data collection when they hadn’t yet reviewed the Use of Force reports or complaints that they already have.
“I just feel like we haven’t started what the Ordinance asks us to do,” said Conerly, referring to Ordinance 1503, which created the Commission and outlines its duties.
There was no explicit discussion of when the Commission would start looking closely at the use of force reports, but the group did decide to start reviewing the 14 complaints made against ELPD in 2021 at their next meeting in April. They agreed to break down the complaints into three “chunks” in order to spend the next three meetings — April, May and June — looking at 4 or 5 complaints in-depth.
Other than data collection and aggregation, what else did the Commission focus on?
The Commission unanimously approved a budget request of $8,500 for Fiscal Year 2023 (beginning July 1, 2022) that will now head to City Council for approval. The budget includes line items for training, research, investigations, facility rentals and website maintenance.
Commissioners also discussed a possible forum with Michigan State University students and community members in April after an invitation to do so from The State News.
Watson presented the option to the Commission, saying, “people already have a story about what this Commission is about, and some of them are right, and some of them are wrong.”
Some commissioners were eager to meet with the community to explain the function of the Oversight Commission and answer questions.
Commissioner Sharon Hobbs emphasized that the Commission isn’t “perfect” and is still figuring things out, so it would be a good idea to address community concerns sooner rather than later.
Others were more hesitant. Mayor Ron Bacon, the other Council liaison to the Commission, advised the commissioners that this would be their “first impression to the community” and suggested commissioners have prepared statements for the forum since the event needs to be “a really good coming out.”
The Commission agreed to accept the invitation now and to work to iron out the details of the event at a later date.
Upcoming East Lansing Events on Community Policing
There will be a panel titled “The Value and Limitations of Community Policing” at the Race in 21st Century Americas conference at MSU on Wed., March 30, from 12-1:30 p.m. The event is in a hybrid format and more information can be found here.
On March 11, the City announced that ELPD will be hosting “Meet & Greets” between East Lansing community members and the neighborhood watch/sector officers that oversee their neighborhoods.
According to a press release from the City, these events are scheduled to occur on a quarterly basis. The events are designed to be “informal,” and for community members to have the ability to “ask questions and discuss neighborhood safety.”
The release adds that this is a part of ELPD’s “Neighborhood Watch/Sector Officer Program,” which divides ELPD into five Sectors, each led be a sergeant and a team of officers.
You can see which sector your neighborhood is in here.
There are three more “Meet & Greets” scheduled for March:
- March 21, 3:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. at Biggby Coffee, 1429 W. Saginaw Highway, for Sector 2
- March 22, 4 p.m., at The Landings at Chandler Crossings Clubhouse, 16789 Chandler Road, for Sector 5
- March 25, 4 p.m. – 6 p.m., at Cedar Village Ramp Clubhouse, 1000 Village Drive, for Sector 1
Find more of ELi’s reporting on policing in East Lansing here.