The Study Committee on an Independent Police Oversight Commission moved ahead at Monday night’s meeting with a draft outline of the final report it will present to City Council and was given a presentation by Deputy Police Chief Steve Gonzalez on the department’s policies surrounding use of force.
Also on Monday evening, the Study Committee received troves of information on oversight bodies in “comparable” cities to East Lansing from City Manager George Lahanas and an intern who worked on the issue several months ago, as well as much information about oversight bodies in “non-comparable” cities from members of a subcommittee tasked with that work.
Additionally, the Study Committee added a meeting for the month of December, now planning meetings for Dec. 7 and 14 (and not Dec. 21 as originally planned).
Robust discussion followed Gonzalez’s presentation on use of force
At the Nov. 23 meeting, Gonzalez outlined ELPD’s policies and training, how they fit into the Michigan Commission On Law Enforcement Standards (MCOLES) “use of force continuum,” and showed some surface-level data on uses of force by ELPD. (See the PowerPoint he presented here.)
The presentation began with Gonzalez briefly touching on some case law that is the groundwork for how officers use force in the line of duty. He then delved into the various “levels” of force that police can apply, ranging from verbal commands to firing guns.
Gonzalez also explained that officers are supposed to tend to any injuries an individual sustains through the application of force and that photographic documentation is supposed to occur when possible. He also explained how ELPD currently has an ad hoc system — “interim” was how Gonzalez described it at one point — for internal reporting and record keeping on use of force.
Gonzalez also briefly touched on the standardized training that officers go through, which according to the presentation includes four to six, hours-long training sessions yearly. Officers are trained by ELPD’s own training staff and the materials covered include firearm use, pressure point control tactics (PPCT), “scenario based sessions dovetailing with de-escalation techniques,” and the requirements for annual qualification. Officers are also trained in MCOLES use of force continuum.
The data Gonzalez shared on use of force did show notable usage of handguns and rifles by officers, but he offered important context to that information.
He explained that any time an officer unholsters their pistol or removes a rifle from their police car for the purposes of their public safety role — carrying it from the car into the station to store it, would not count, for instance — it gets recorded as it being “displayed.” Gonzalez also explained that the cases of “use” of guns involved putting down wounded animals. He specifically cited deer that have been hit by cars and rabid raccoons.
“In my 23 years here, we have not had to discharge our firearms at an individual — at a person,” Gonzalez said.
The other data showed infrequent use of tasers and almost no use of pepper spray. Gonzalez noted that the department is trying to move away from use of pepper spray.
Gonzalez’s presentation included graphs showing the number of incidents in which different types of force were used from 2017 to 2019. A table containing more granular data about incidents in 2019 and 2020 — compiled by ELi’s Nathan Andrus using publicly-available Weekly Arrest Reports — was shared with the Study Committee in Written Communications.
Following Gonzalez’s presentation, Committee member Cedrick Heraux asked about the use of a “critical decision-making model” for training as an alternative to the standard use of force continuum. He noted that the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) is promoting this model of training.
“We have an increasing number of agencies across the United States who have looked at that as allowing officers to be a little more dynamic, and a little less rigid than use of force up and down the scale,” said Heraux, an associate professor of sociology and criminal justice at Adrian College.
Gonzalez said he wasn’t very knowledgeable about the different models and noted that it would require extensive retraining with the existing officers to change their mode of thinking away from the MCOLES use of force continuum.
Committee member Chris Root asked Gonzalez more about the process of internal reporting and recordkeeping when it comes to use of force. According to the presentation, when an officer uses force, they both include that in their written report and notify their supervisor. The first-line supervisor is then supposed to inform police administration by the end of the shift, and the administration handles it from there.
Root asked if the committee could see the blank versions of the various forms that are used for this reporting process.
Gonzalez said that other than the police reports that get written, there isn’t necessarily some formal process for the information to currently follow. He has said at multiple meetings of the Study Committee that ELPD is in need of an Early Intervention System both for supervising and managing officers’ use of force and for extracting data to analyze. Currently, the department uses the “interim” process that Gonzalez described in his presentation.
Earlier in the conversation, Committee member Noel Garcia Jr., a former Lansing Police officer, asked Gonzalez if it was possible to pull out demographic data on race and/or ethnicity from the use of force data. Gonzalez said that Committee Chair Chuck Grigsby had actually requested that data, but that compiling it would require ELPD staff to go through each use of force report by hand and tally the data.
“Our current system cannot extract that by just running a report,” Gonzalez said.
Study Committee agrees to draft report outline
At its previous meeting, the Study Committee created a subcommittee to consider how to report their ultimate findings and recommendations to City Council. The subcommittee consists of Root, Garcia, and Sade Smallwood.
“We also decided the entire group needed to make a group decision on this outline,” Garcia Jr. said.
A memo to the Study Committee on Monday included a draft outline of the report, which the Committee members agreed to use.
The draft outline includes four main sections: (1) the purpose of the Study Committee and its report; (2) history and current practices of police oversight in East Lansing; (3) models of oversight commissions, difficulties of evaluation, constraints, and trends; and (4) recommendations for an ordinance to create Oversight Commission or an actual draft ordinance.
“We thought of a pretty simple structure,” Root said. “Section one would be brief on the purpose, just so you’ve got everything in that one place with the resolution and the history of the Study Committee itself.”
Following discussion on Monday, Committee member Quentin Tyler volunteered to draft the first section of the report.
“Number four is the meat and potatoes,” Root said. That section would likely have to be written at the “very end” of the process, after the Study Committee has gotten all the information it can and gotten robust input from the public, something it hasn’t done yet. The earlier sections are likely to be written earlier.
Other notes from Monday’s meeting
- Lahanas didn’t formally present on the oversight bodies in cities “comparable” to East Lansing, but provided research by City Staff as agenda item attachments. He also advocated strongly during the meeting that Committee members look closely at the model being used in Ann Arbor. (Find the compiled research here.)
- The other subcommittee formed by the Study Committee brought forth research on oversight bodies in “non-comparable” cities to East Lansing. Subcommittee member Erick Williams noted there are no models to simply pick from, because each city involves a unique combination of history and demographics. (See that information on the agenda, under Agenda Item 4.1.)
- After originally intending to hold a meeting entirely dedicated to public comment sometime in December, the Study Committee decided to postpone that until they’ve done more work for the community to weigh in on.
- Lahanas indicated he is working on a survey related to policing in East Lansing to be administered to a sample of the public by a professional polling agency.
The next scheduled meeting of the Study Committee is Dec. 7.
Help ELi continue its intensive coverage of East Lansing in 2021: