The East Lansing Independent Police Oversight Commission (ELIPOC) meeting revolved around community feedback on use of force recommendations during its Nov. 1 meeting with around a dozen community members attending the discussion.
Also at the meeting, ELIPOC Vice Chair Chris Root announced that a civil rights investigation involving ELPD is being conducted by the state of Michigan.
Seven use of force recommendations were presented and discussed.
Facilitators Carlton Evans and Doak Bloss presented each of the seven recommendations to meeting attendees and commissioners, who then held up green, yellow or red cards. A green card signaled approval for the recommendation, yellow meant an audience member wanted slight changes and the red card meant the recommendation did not at all capture what an audience member wanted. If an audience member had a yellow or red card raised, Evans and Bloss would take feedback from them on how the recommendation could be improved.
The recommendations were developed through a community workshop that Evans and Bloss led in late September. Beneath each recommendation, there was a description further outlining what each recommendation intended to do.
The first recommendation was, “The East Lansing Police Department should publicly declare a goal of eliminating racial disparities in use of force by 2026.”
Each audience member held up a green card in response to this recommendation.
The second goal was, “The East Lansing Police Department should engage in an ongoing, substantive relationship with community partners who share in their challenges and are mutually invested in overcoming them.”
This was met with more pushback than the first goal. One red card and one yellow card were raised in response to the recommendation.
“I just generally think that it’s not that they need to know the people they’re harming better to make it stop, they just need to stop harming people,” said Ash Meadow, a community participant who held up the red card.
Meadow went on to say that events hosted by police like ice cream socials and school supplies giveaways “legitimizes the harm and it doesn’t really actually stop it.” They added these events can be used as optics that serve the police.
A different member of the audience chimed in to add they aren’t sure community members want to build relationships with the police right now.
Commissioner Kath Edsall jumped in to say that ELPD holding social events with neighborhood association leaders is not community policing. She said she struggled with this recommendation, but appreciated some of the language describing the recommendation. She gave several examples of the language she liked in the full proposal, including “violence prevention,” “crisis assessment” and “respect for cultural diversity.”
Bloss said he could incorporate into the recommendation that there is a negative feeling about police holding social events.
ELIPOC Chair Erick Williams said the culture within ELPD needs to be changed and he isn’t sure hot dog roasts are the most effective way to accomplish that.
Commissioner Robin Etchinson chimed in to say there is engagement between ELPD and the community, but the way they interact needs to change to make the engagement constructive. Commissioner Rasha Thomas added the engagement can’t just be performative.
Commissioner Ernest Conerly said eliminating interactions between the police and the community could deepen the divide that already exists between the two. Commissioner Sharon Hobbs added no report is perfect and that community interaction can be one part of improving the culture at ELPD.
“Taking this off the table won’t make the report better,” she said. “I don’t mind hotdogs. I don’t mind trying anything that gets the police and the community engaged.”
Meadow said including this recommendation can give ELPD an easy task to complete and allow the department to ignore more important goals.
Moving on, goal three was, “The East Lansing Police Department should become a stakeholder in the interests of communities of color.” Again, this was met with some resistance from the crowd.
One audience member said she wants to make sure communities of color want ELPD to be stakeholders, but she isn’t sure how to make that determination. She said that during the workshop a lot of white people were making this suggestion. Meadow added a lot of white people have limited understanding of the harm police cause for communities of color.
Conerly asked what activities ELPD and communities would be doing to facilitate achieving this goal? Bloss and Evans said this recommendation would be carried out through dialogue. Conerly said it could upset some people if ELPD invites its personnel to community events. He asked if police are just joining community events or if police are hosting events?
Bloss said it would be important to have a good facilitator for these kinds of events. Conerly pointed out it will be very difficult to find a host that both the police and community members find to be unbiased.
Edsall said she appreciates that the report highlights this task should be done through training in anti-racism concepts that inform officers on how institutional racism harms people of color every day. She said racism can’t be cured over one generation, but she has seen people who have gone through anti-bias training come out with a better understanding of communities they are not a part of.
East Lansing City Councilmember Dana Watson, who serves as liaison to ELIPOC, said positive interactions with Black and brown people could help ELPD officers.
“There are studies that show simply working or being around someone that doesn’t look like you gets you farther away from biases that you might have,” Watson said.
The activity then advanced to goal four, which was, “The East Lansing Police Department’s declaration of the goal of eliminating disparities should accompany a public commitment to changing policies, training, and recruitment and hiring practices in cooperation with ELIPOC.”
This recommendation received mostly green cards as feedback. Meadow held up a yellow card because they did not agree with language about providing police resources to handle mental health crises.
“I don’t think that we need to give them more resources to do that,” Meadow said. “I think they need to be handing that responsibility over to people that are trained already, that their profession is that.”
With only an hour allocated for the use of force activity and nearly 50 minutes having been spent on it already, Evans and Bloss advanced to the next goal, which was, “The East Lansing Police Department should make specific changes in policy that explicitly limit the use of force by its officers.”
Meadow was the only one in attendance to not hold up a green card in response. They said they liked the first, second and fifth bullet points under the recommendation but did not think the third or fourth bullet points would “be productive.” The bullet points under the recommendation were:
- Policy should explicitly state that use of force is to be avoided whenever possible. The department should explicitly disavow a “continuum of use of force” in framing department policy.
- In non-emergency situations, use a no-weapon response.
- Imbue policies on use of force with the principle of proportionality and the application of critical thinking (supported by continuous training in these concepts).
- Make it department policy that officers receive continuous training in understanding racial inequity and unconscious bias, and effective ways to triage incidents involving a mental health crisis.
- Bring policies in line with the American Law Institute (ALI) document, Principles of the Law — Policing, (paragraphs 7.01 – 7.06), with emphasis on their pertinence to human interactions (not property).
Meadow took issue with the ambiguity of what “critical thinking” is and said they did not want to cosign “proportionality.” Meadow also questioned if training works or if it’s just allocating more resources to ELPD.
Edsall said there is a critical thinking model that could be used.
“You’ve got to train your brain to walk through those steps,” she said.
Moving on to goal six, Bloss and Evans presented, “The East Lansing Police Department should implement measures designed to increase officers’ and supervisors’ buy-in of the department-wide commitment to avoid use of force.”
There were mixed responses to this recommendation. Edsall was concerned about a bullet point under the recommendation that said ELPD should monitor racial bias internally.
“We have come across an absolute inability to recognize racial bias from within the force,” Edsall said.
Edsall continued, saying reviews for bias should be done by someone who is trained in bias and not internally, unless ELPD hires someone who has this training. Bloss asked if the recommendation should specify the review should be done outside the department. Edsall said that would be “great.”
Edsall also said a recommendation to move to contactless traffic stops (where drivers are mailed tickets instead of pulled over) could still contain bias. While the recommendation would theoretically reduce conflict between police and citizens and possibly cut down on use of force incidents, she said the officers who decide who gets ticketed could still be biased.
Conerly said it will be hard to get police to incorporate this recommendation because they don’t believe they are doing anything wrong in most instances.
Finally, goal seven was, “The East Lansing Police Department should train officers in the principles and techniques of force avoidance.”
There were a couple of pieces of feedback on this recommendation. Meadow said mechanisms need to be set up to hold officers responsible for violence that is inherent within police departments.
Etchinson said former soldiers who become police officers don’t always transition to the new role well because of the “warrior mindset” they develop in the service. He wondered if there was training to help reverse this mindset, as the setting for police officers is different than that of military members.
“You’re not in combat anymore,” Etchinson said. “You’re in a community of citizens.”
Lieutenant Adam Park, who serves as ELPD’s liaison to the commission, said there are four current ELPD officers with military experience.
Joshua Hewitt, who serves on the East Lansing Human Rights Commission, said it may not be a training issue but a hiring issue. If ELPD can identify individuals with dangerous mindsets in the hiring process and avoid hiring them, then constantly adding new training wouldn’t be needed.
“If you hire the right people then you eliminate that need to train,” Hewitt said.
Thomas agreed with Hewitt, saying that when police cause harm, inadequate training is always given as a reason. But sometimes, there is just a bad officer who should not be in that role.
“You have some people that can become officers in less time than it takes to get a barber’s license,” Thomas said. “They’re making life and death decisions.”
Following this Nov. 1 activity, Bloss and Evans said they will go back and revise the report and recommendations based on the feedback. The report will then be turned over to ELIPOC.
ELPD is being investigated by the state.
Root announced that ELIPOC received an email on Oct. 23 notifying the commission that the state is conducting a civil rights investigation into an incident involving ELPD.
Commissioners said they don’t have any information about the contents of the investigation. Watson said City Attorney Chubb may be able to provide more before ELIPOC’s next meeting, which is scheduled for Dec. 6.
While the contents of the investigation into ELPD are unknown at this time, Root provided ELi with a summary of two investigations on the Grand Rapids Police Department by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) and the process MDCR uses.
Editor’s note: A caption for a photo in this story has been corrected with the proper identification of David Wiley and the title of ELIPOC Chair Erick Williams. (10:28 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023)
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