Come October 5, East Lansing will have a new Police Chief, Kim Johnson, a retired 30-year veteran of the East Lansing Police Department.
ELi reported on Monday that the announcement was likely to come at Council last night, and indeed that’s what happened.
Following the requirement laid out in the City Charter, City Manager George Lahanas “consulted” with Council on the decision last night, and hearing Council’s support, his choice was effectively ratified.
Last week, four finalist candidates for the job went through a series of interviews with civilians, City staff, Lahanas, and City Council members Jessy Gregg and Ron Bacon.
Johnson retired from ELPD as a police captain, having served for 30 years in the force, rising from the rank of officer, as Lahanas noted.
In addition to receiving degrees from Michigan State — including a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in organizational behavior — Johnson is also a graduate of Northwestern University’s School of Police Staff and Command as well as the FBI National Academy, according to a press release released during the City Council meeting.
Before retiring as a captain, Johnson acted as ELPD’s media relations representative and emergency management coordinator. Northwestern University’s Center for Public Safety has him on staff as adjunct faculty “in the areas of organizational behaviors and policy development,” according to the press release.
Council member Lisa Babcock asked about Johnson’s “philosophy on community policing.”
Lahanas replied that Johnson was on ELPD when the department started incorporating community policing in the 1990s and said that Johnson helped implement that approach, including getting officers out of cars onto bikes and on foot patrol (which no longer occurs) in addition to partnering with neighborhoods.
Gregg said she supported the choice of Johnson but also asked about the plan for policing realignment. Lahanas said he’d talked to Johnson about this “educational and proactive approach” to policing, and he said Johnson is on board with it.
Bacon said the “highest selling point” for him on this hire was that he felt like Johnson practically “wrote the book” on community policing in the 1990s. “He literally sits in that space,” said Bacon.
Babcock also asked about Johnson’s views on “racial equity and policing.”
To this, Lahanas replied that Johnson “was born and raised in Detroit during a time of racial turmoil and tension in Detroit. He is a man of color. So, his experience growing up is something I got to hear about and relied upon back when he was a captain and I was the Deputy City Manager. So, I’ve always been impressed that Captain Johnson has been willing to share his perspectives, his insights, and his cultural perspectives with the rest of the department.”
During the public comment period of last night’s Council meeting, Human Relations Commission Vice Chair Krystal Davis asked a series of questions about policing, including when the Study Committee on an independent police oversight commission will start meeting. She was told by Lahanas that staff are still polling the committee members for the convening of the first meeting. Members have been offered two dates, October 5 or 12.
Davis also asked about when the police union’s contract bargaining would happen and was told by Lahanas that would happen in “winter, soonest.” Mayor Aaron Stephens suggested the timing would allow input from the Study Committee on the contracts.
In her questions, Davis also asked what is going on with Officer Andrew Stephenson, who has been at the center of local discussions about alleged racism and overuse of force in policing and who was recently cleared by an independent prosecutor in response to public complaints. Davis said she was concerned about Stephenson interacting with the general public, saying she was specifically concerned about “potential abuse.”
In response, Stephens told Davis he wanted to make absolutely clear that Council has no oversight of the police – that that is the City Manager’s job.
Following that, Lahanas said that Stephenson “has requested and has been put in” a detective bureau working “primarily a desk job for the foreseeable future.”
East Lansing’s last police chief, Larry Sparkes, retired just after the revelation that Stephenson had been involved in two separate arrests where the men being arrested were both Black and had their faces and eyes injured in a similar fashion. Investigative reporting by ELi showed a history of complaints against Stephenson by men of color.
Johnson will begin his tenure as ELPD Chief on Oct. 5., when Steve Gonzalez will end his service as Acting Chief and again become Deputy Chief, second-in-command of ELPD.
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