East Lansing’s special task force on policing, the Study Committee on an Independent Police Oversight Commission, will present its report to City Council on June 8, and on that date, the group will formally recommend establishment of a permanent independent oversight commission for the City of East Lansing.
According to a press release from the City, the Council will then discuss the report on June 15, and the City Attorney “will then draft an ordinance for the establishment of an Independent Police Oversight Commission, which will be reviewed by Council prior to its adoption.”
The City’s announcement about the matter marks a culmination of eight months’ work by the group that has been studying and discussing issues related to the East Lansing Police Department’s activities in the community.
The special report from the Study Committee is expected to shape how the City Council creates, staffs, and runs a new commission that will likely review complaints made against the police. The commission might ultimately also push for transparency around policing, something the committee’s work and ELi’s reporting has shown to be challenging.
The committee was formed after a City Council resolution passed in May of last year and has met bi-monthly since the group was finally convened in October. The committee is composed of Chair Chuck Grigsby, Vice Chair Chris Root, Kathleen Boyle, Sadé Callwood, Kelli Ellsworth Etchison, Noel Garcia Jr., Cedrick Heraux, Helen Josephson, Sharron Reed-Davis, Quentin Tyler, and Erick Williams. Council member Ron Bacon has been serving as that body’s liaison to the committee.
The committee has based the recommendations in its report on analyses of national trends in policing oversight and has drawn on data provided by ELPD. The committee’s report does not cite the recent public survey of citizens’ attitudes toward policing, conducted by EPIC-MRA. Committee member and sociological researcher Cedrick Heraux has said that the approach taken in EPIC-MRA’s report is problematic enough as to constitute a “breach of research ethics.”
Because of the work done in conjunction with the committee, ELi was able to report last November that nearly a decade of data collected by ELPD shows the disproportionate contact and arrest of African Americans in East Lansing. Black residents of East Lansing are also far more likely to experience “use of force” by ELPD officers than white residents, as ELi reported in February, following the committee’s efforts at data-collection.
The committee also asked for and received presentations by police administrators, state mental health advocates, and the Ingham County Prosecutor’s office. The final report results from consideration of those presentations, independent research, and in some cases ELi’s reporting. It addresses the understanding of local police procedure, the efficacy of utilizing techniques from social work and non-confrontational policing methods, as well as how prosecutorial power is limited by what evidence the police share with prosecutors.
Recent ELPD activity has even garnered formal complaints from a City Council member. Council member Lisa Babcock’s February complaint to ELPD was specifically concerned with racial bias, misrepresentation in an officer’s report of alleged rape, and a problematic media release, as ELi reported. Her complaint was in part “sustained,” meaning police investigators agreed with her concerns.
Issues concerning transparency from both the City and the ELPD have been a consistent topic of discussion at study committee meetings. The City of East Lansing has repeatedly stated its goals surrounding issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, but perceptions about ELPD’s transparency with regard to possible cases of racial bias have ranged from skeptical to critical.
Now, the five members of City Council will tackle the question of what kind of commission to formally establish in terms of policing oversight. All five members of the current Council have consistently expressed active interest in policing, particularly with regard to concerns about racial bias.
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