A shorthanded East Lansing Independent Police Oversight Commission (ELIPOC) discussed 12 ideas to focus on over the next six months during its Wednesday (Oct. 4) meeting.
There were only five of the commission’s 10 members in attendance to discuss the goals, as four members were absent and Ernest Conerly announced at the start of the meeting that he had to leave halfway through the three-hour session.
Newly appointed Commissioner Chuck Gagnier joined ELIPOC Chair Erick Williams, Vice Chair Chris Root and Commissioners Kath Edsall and Amanda Morgan in a discussion about the commission’s direction.
Additionally, it was announced that an East Lansing Police Department (ELPD) officer acted inappropriately when he repeatedly called a woman after getting her phone number while on duty.
Remaking its website, relationship building with ELPD and meeting with police leadership among ELIPOC priorities over next six months.
During a conversation that lasted around half an hour to end its meeting, ELIPOC discussed 12 ideas to focus on over the next six months. The full list of ideas can be read here.
After Gagnier, a retired East Lansing Fire Department lieutenant who was attending his first meeting as a commissioner, complimented ELIPOC’s work, Morgan jumped in to recap the group’s progression over its two year history.
“Our freshman year really was building the use of force reports and the complaint report,” she said. “Sophomore year was a lot of reevaluating and readjusting what’s going on.”
Root went on to say many of the goals in last year’s annual report and recommendations highlighted in the 146-page CNA report are still unmet. She said meeting with ELPD leadership to discuss priorities could be a way to work toward some of those goals.
Setting a semi-annual meeting with ELPD Chief Kim Johnson was one of the ideas highlighted in the meeting report. Commissioners agreed it would be a good idea to get together with Johnson and other ELPD leaders to discuss goals. But they recognized it would be impossible to address all of the 72 findings in the CNA report at once. But, Root pointed out, ELIPOC and ELPD leadership could pinpoint target areas to address first.
“We can’t work on all of them, there are too many, we won’t accomplish them all,” Root said.
Edsall said recommendations should carry over onto the next annual report. Root agreed but said ELIPOC needs to really think about what it can accomplish in the next six months. A big part of that process, she said, needs to be talking with Chief Johnson.
In addition to police leaders, commissioners agreed they need to continue to work toward building relationships throughout ELPD. This is a goal the commission has talked about at previous meetings.
Morgan said that over the next six months ELIPOC should look for opportunities to interact with officers and said some of this work will need to be done in the community. She also said she would like to attend ELPD training.
In addition to ELPD employees, commissioners seemed receptive to the idea of inviting a Michigan State University Crime Analysis Residence (CAR) representative to a meeting. ELPD is participating in a six-month CAR program that is expected to improve data reporting and management, especially around traffic stops. ELPD Captain Chad Pride recommended that ELIPOC invite the program’s MSU resident to a meeting.
While commissioners seemed to like Pride’s suggestion, when the meeting would take place is unclear. Root pointed out that the commission’s November and December meetings will need to devote much of its time to its annual report and use of force recommendations.
ELIPOC also discussed the need to improve its website. This idea said the website needs to be updated to “provide up-to-date, relevant information to the public.”
Morgan said she was committed to meeting with the city’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Director and staff liaison to the commission Elaine Hardy to make sure improvements are made before the start of the new year.
Williams said he wasn’t sure changes needed to be made that quickly. But Morgan said it was a goal set in the last annual report and she was committed to getting the job done quickly. Root added that at ELIPOC’s special November 2022 meeting to get feedback from the public, improved communication was a common request.
ELPD officer repeatedly called woman after obtaining her number while on-duty.
After an ELPD investigation, Officer Kenyon Smith was found to have violated a department policy after repeatedly calling a woman whose phone number he obtained while on-duty. The chief is responsible for deciding disciplinary action.
A complaint that was filed by an anonymous woman said Smith met the woman while she was out late Saturday night or Sunday morning in early June. As the woman was walking home, she came across Smith again and he asked for her phone number to “make sure she got home ok.”
The woman then alleges she received 20 phone calls and two voicemails from Smith between that morning of June 4 and the following evening. The woman eventually answered a call and told Smith to stop contacting her. Smith called the woman back to apologize and did not contact her again after that.
The complainant said she did not want to go through an interview about the incident, as Smith did not reach back out to her after being told not to call again. However, she wanted ELPD leaders to be aware of the situation because she worried he behaved similarly with other women. The complainant did provide ELPD investigators with screenshots of the missed calls in a log, however the number is listed as “No caller ID.” Screenshots of voicemails did not identify Smith, according to the investigation report.
While the investigation report does not provide much clarity to what led ELPD investigators to sustain the complaint, the evidence likely lies within the heavily redacted officer interview portion of the report. A complaint being sustained means there was evidence to support it.
“The investigator finds this allegation is SUSTAINED,” the report states. “The employee violated ELPD Policy and Procedure 100-6 Code of Conduct, Article 1-Conduct Unbecoming, as this behavior embarasses, discredits, or negatively impacts the department.”
Despite the investigation finding merit to the complaint, disciplinary measures Smith will be subjected to are unclear. A punishment was not discussed at Wednesday’s meeting, but Root responded to an email from ELi after the meeting that asked about the disciplinary process.
“The procedure spelled out in the ELIPOC ordinance is that ELIPOC responds to the investigation report (which includes a finding about alleged policy violation(s)) within 60 days and then the investigation and the ELIPOC’s response goes to the Chief for a final determination,” Root wrote. “The Chief makes the final determination of whether a policy was violated and also what the discipline should be.
“So, there probably hasn’t been a disciplinary decision yet,” she wrote. “Also, ELIPOC generally is not informed of what the discipline is. We’ve been told a couple of times that there is not one definitive discipline that comes from violating a particular policy, partly because the discipline may differ according to the extent of previous violations of that or other policies. For example, a second violation of the body camera policy probably has more severe discipline than a first violation.”
In a short discussion about the incident, Conerly said this complaint confused him and asked why the woman would give the officer her phone number if she didn’t want him to call.
“Somebody with a gun wants your phone number,” Edsall replied.
Morgan added that calling 20 times to ensure the woman got home seems excessive and the fact the complaint was sustained indicates Smith acted inappropriately.
ELIPOC voted to take no further action on the complaint.