East Lansing’s Independent Police Oversight Commission unanimously voted on Monday night in favor of a motion designed to create more transparency and ensure that the public can look at the information that the Commissioners are considering.
Because such information — like the overall report on complaints against East Lansing Police Department in 2021 — wasn’t publicly accessible prior to the meeting, the Commission deferred discussing those things until it meets again in March.
Chris Root, a newly appointed member to the Commission following the resignation of Gwen Dobrowolski, came to her first meeting with a prepared motion to address the absence of this information from the public ahead of time. The now-passed motion is effectively the Oversight Commission issuing a directive to the City Staff and ELPD employees working with them to ensure the information is made available prior to meetings.
Root’s motion included three parts and directed City staff to “attach to the public agenda of the March meeting the complete documents that the Commission will consider so they can be read by members of the public before the meeting of the Commission.”
The motion also requested “any attachments the complainant filed with the complaint” to be added to the 2021 Summary Report so that the Commission may have a fuller picture of each complaint filed against ELPD.
Root explained that the Commission relies upon ELPD to share all relevant information and that the Commission should not have to request information under freedom of information laws, as outlined in Ordinance 1503, which created the Oversight Commission.
Due to the delays in making this information public, Root’s final point in her motion requested the Commission postpone considering the 2021 Summary Report until the March meeting.
Root’s motion passed unanimously.
Earlier in the meet during public comment, Peggy Roberts expressed frustrations that would soon be echoed. She asked why Item 6.3 — “ELPD Complaint Summary Report for 2021” — was not publicly accessible before the start of the meeting.
The 2021 Summary Report includes descriptions of the 11 complaints against ELPD employees from members of the public during 2021, including the officers named in complaints, which personnel investigated the complaints, and the outcome of the investigations.
In response to Roberts and questions from commissioners, City Staff Liaison Shelli Neumann explained that in the past, some information was only distributed during City meetings or available through the Freedom of Information Act, though information made public at meetings was always “shareable” once it appeared in a public forum.
Neumann then handed out copies of the 2021 Summary Report to members of the public that were present.
The Commission still hasn’t discussed 2021 use of force reports and now won’t until at least March.
Commissioner Benjamin Hughes broached the topic of data tracking as it relates to “use of force” reports and other information the Commission will be keeping an eye on.
Hughes pointed out that the Commission has yet to discuss the reports from 2021 and suggested commissioners think over what data from the reports they feel is missing so the Commission can discuss this at the March meeting.
Chair Erick Williams applauded efforts from ELPD to get the Commission more detailed information than they originally received in November 2021, saying he was “impressed” to get more detail in the January 2022 report that created a more “dynamic” picture of what’s going on with ELPD and uses of force.
ELPD Lieutenant Chad Pride told the Commission that ELPD tried to meet the Commission’s requests for more detail, and called the new reports “maybe too detailed.”
“No, they’re not,” Williams said in response.
Pride assured the Commission that ELPD would continue to work with them to get them the information required under the ordinance.
The Commission also heard from Chief Kim Johnson, who was there to introduce himself and speak about his department’s relationship to the commission now overseeing ELPD.
“Our doors are always open,” Johnson said. He urged commissioners to offer ELPD feedback on their policies. “If we’re not doing something good, it’s my job to make those changes,” Johnson said later, after asking the Commission to be “objective” in their evaluations of police policy and procedure.
The Commission also re-elected Williams as Chair for 2022, while Root was elected Vice Chair after a nomination from Kath Edsall, who served as Vice Chair in 2021.