In response to East Lansing community members’ concerns regarding police use of force, the East Lansing Independent Police Oversight Commission (ELIPOC) held a public workshop Saturday (Sept. 30).
The purpose of ELIPOC is to increase accountability of the East Lansing Police Department (ELPD) and strengthen the trust between the department and the community. The stated purpose of this specific workshop was to increase trust by listening to the public’s recommendations regarding the best practices for use of force.
A petition was sent to ELIPOC from 33 East Lansing residents in September 2022, calling on commission members to submit recommendations to ELPD concerning its policy and training on use of force. The petition was written in response to the April 25, 2022, shooting in the Meijer parking lot.
The Saturday workshop was facilitated by Carlton Evans and Doak Bloss, from McDuffie Evans. Evans is a presenter who specializes in social justice issues and Bloss has facilitated over 200 community dialogues. Both are from the Lansing area.
The focus question of the workshop was “What should ELPD do to minimize use of force and eliminate its disproportionate use with people of color?” The seminar gave community members present at the Hannah Community Center the opportunity to formulate answers to the question.
Evans and Bloss began the workshop, with about 30 community members present, by setting up the guidelines for dialogue.
“The process that we are using is called ‘dialogue,’” Evans said. “Dialogue is not debate. We are not here to argue. Dialogue is about holding multiple positions. We want all voices to be heard.”
Before the dialogue began, ELIPOC representatives provided some background information.
ELIPOC co-City Council liaison Councilmember Dana Watson and ELIPOC Vice Chair Chris Root provided some background information to community members about the commission and the workshop.
“Prior to our Independent Police Oversight Commission, East Lansing Police Department would provide oral annual reports of complaints to our Human Rights Commission,” Watson said. “This was between the years of approximately 2016 and 2020…The process was really non-existent. The arrangement was that someone would show up and we’d go over the complaints. But there was no structure, there was no direction saying what we needed, what we wanted to see, and there was no good consistency throughout that time.”
Following four specific complaints regarding excessive use of force in the city from 2019 to 2022, community members demanded action be taken. That led to City Council approving a resolution for the formation of ELIPOC, which held its first meeting in November 2021.
ELPD is now required to create monthly narrative reports of use of force incidents for ELIPOC, Watson explained. ELIPOC then reviews these reports, prepares a statistical analysis of the data in the reports and presents the findings in an annual report. The 2022 annual report can be found here.
Organizers told those in attendance Saturday the process that began with the workshop will involve numerous steps. The results of the workshop and a “Validation Session” will be on the agenda at ELIPOC’s next meeting, 6 p.m. Nov. 1. The meeting is open to the public. ELIPOC will compare the workshop output with ELPD’s current policy and training and create a recommendation document to ELPD.
Workshop participants were given space for open dialgoue.
Facilitators explained the workshop was organized around the American Law Institute’s Principles of the Law, which holds five main ideas concerning the best practices in police use of force.
Workshop participants were then given space for open dialogue, facilitated by Evans and Bloss. Participants were invited to speak about topics concerning policing policy, training, practice or anything else.
Many of the expressed concerns revolved around biases and discrimination, holding the police department accountable and the mentality surrounding use of force that has been curated in police academy programs.
“I grew up in the ’50s, and I was taught that police officers were our friends, that they were there to help us out,” community member Merry Stanford said. “I’m 73 years old, I’ve had maybe 10 personal contacts with police officers who aren’t my cousin. And I can honestly say that not one single one of those interactions did I feel like the officer was there to help me out. I felt that there was the threat of domination.”
“Having policies that focus on behavior is vitally important,” Stanford added. ”But if we neglect to help a department and individual officers approach a transformation of attitude and heart, then those policies will not have the power that they could have.”
ELIPOC Commissioner Kath Edsall expressed similar concerns about the mindset of current police training.
“There is this constant mentality [for police officers] of ‘I’m under attack, I’m under attack, I’m under attack, and I have to use force to fight back,’” Edsall said. “So even when we get to training, policy and practice, it starts back in the academy. And when we talk about hiring those police officers and they’ve been through the academy and they have that mentality, how do you hire somebody and tell them to erase all of that mentality that’s been preached to them through the 14 or 16 weeks of the academy?”
East Lansing Human Rights Commissioner Josh Hewitt shared his concerns regarding use of force and what he said might be the cause.
“I feel as if the level of force used could be connected to race,” Hewitt said. “And I feel like I might be at bias, and a lot of other people might be as well. But my question would be, ‘Why would a police officer treat someone who’s considered to be the marginalized group, especially a Black person, with care and respect?’
“And I don’t know the answer, I’m just asking. But how do you treat somebody you typically dislike with care and respect? Specifically Black people.”
City Council candidate Rebecca Kasen shared similar thoughts about racial biases in the force.
“I took the Citizen’s Police Academy and, while I was there, the police officers were invited to go to a Holocaust museum in Detroit, and they came back with a much better idea of anti-semitism, and that was amazing,” Kasen said. “I want the police officers to do that with every community. If they don’t just check the box, sit there for an hour and pretend to listen to a DEI training, but actually go to a place and they learn from people.”
The Citizens’ Police Academy is a program designed to acquaint community residents who are not sworn police officers with the activities of their local police department. The ELPD hosts an academy each year.
Participants were given focus questions to discuss.
To help participants gather their thoughts and answer the focus question, Carlton and Boak presented a series of summary questions. The questions were:
- Of everything that you have seen and heard so far this morning, what stands out for you as surprising or important to remember?
- Thinking over the last couple of years, what pleases you about the ELPD and its efforts to address use of force?
- What, if anything, concerns you about the ELPD’s efforts to address use of force?
- What experiences have an impact on your views about ELPD’s policy and practice regarding use of force?
- What values or guiding principles do you most want to see influence ELPD’s policy and practices regarding use of force?
- What outcomes would assure you that ELPD is making a rigorous effort to reduce use of force?
- What might prevent ELPD from successfully adopting policies and practices that reduce use of force and its disproportionate use with people of color?
- What might be done to address the challenges you just named?
The workshop concluded with an attempt to answer the main focus question.
The participants were encouraged to keep their answers between four and 10 words. They first answered the question individually, then formed groups to share. Finally, groups shared answers as a whole, categorizing and combining them.
The answers were grouped into six categories:
1. Changing the culture internally: Developing preventative attitudes, valuing life, affording force de-escalation and crisis assessment. ELPD employees required to get long-term experiential training in racial disparities. Engage all stakeholders to learn from each other. Officers living in the communities they serve. ELPD invests as a stakeholder in communities of people of color.
2. Training (de-escalation/use of force): De-escalation training. Commit to increase de-escalation training. Train in methods to avoid use of force. No weapon response to non-emergencies. Prioritize other training over “warrior” training.
3. Racial bias and anti-racism: Meaningful and comprehensive DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) training. Continuous anti-racism training. Training to recognize racial bias.
4. Policy: Policy should explicitly state that use of force is to be as minimum as possible. Proportionality de-escalation critical thinking policy. Apply principles of law to the current policy. ALI guidelines, racial sensitivity and mental capacity training and reinforcement.
5. Police management and officer buy-in: Managers should minimize situations where officers may need to use violence. Internally evaluate all use of force for racial bias. Embrace the goal of de-escalation in all incidents of police buy-in. Contactless traffic stops. The department must hold officers who use excessive force accountable.
6. External oversight: Acknowledge limitations – you can’t fix it internally. Ending police violence requires external oversight and input. ELPD needs to make a public commitment to change its policies, hiring and cooperation with ELIPOC to reduce the use of force.
Evans and Bloss are taking these recommendations and proposed solutions into consideration with ELIPOC, which will then hold their “Validation Session” on Nov. 1 to develop a plan to be passed onto ELPD. ELIPOC meets once a month in the Hannah Center.