‘Race and Ethnicity’ Reports from ELPD Concern Study Committee

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East Lansing Police Department data that showed people of color making up a disproportionate percentage of arrests and officer-initiated contact raised concern among several members of the Study Committee on an Independent Police Oversight Commission. 

According to East Lansing’s Chief of Police, Kim Johnson, this data has historically been under-analyzed by ELPD after it’s aggregated. During Johnson’s prior stint with the ELPD — he originally retired in 2012 — Johnson said the department was “trying to keep an eye on it, but we weren’t doing a lot of digging.”

This is an issue that Study Committee members expressed concern about during an Oct. 26, meeting following a presentation from ELPD’s Deputy Chief Steve Gonzalez. That presentation displayed race and ethnicity arrest data from 2017 to 2019, along with “Officer Initiated Contact” reports from February 2020 to September 2020.

ELi has also obtained data on race and ethnicity arrests from 2010 to 2013 and 2015 to 2016, which has been included in our analysis.

The data, spanning a decade, shows that officers disproportionately arrest or initiate contact with African Americans. In any given year throughout the 2010s, African Americans accounted for anywhere from 18% to 41% of arrests while making up just 7.8% of East Lansing’s population.

“I definitely have some big concerns when it comes to some of the information that was presented,” Study Committee Chair Chuck Grigsby said. “You know, 7% African American population here in East Lansing. We’ve got over 40% interacting with police.”

The Study Committee – charged with providing to City Council a recommendation of how to form the oversight commission, one sensitive to issues of racism in the criminal justice system – found the over-representation of Black people and African Americans in the arrest and interaction records from 2017 to 2020 alarming.

Gonzalez told ELi on Monday that leadership in the ELPD is considering an academic study of the 2017 to 2019 data. 

“Such a study would utilize experts to study the data and draw conclusions on its meaning and possibly make suggestions as we move forward with policing efforts in East Lansing,” Gonzalez said

Arrests and Officer-Initiated Interactions

There is no apparent standard for how the ELPD collects and presents racial data. 

Since 2014, Gonzalez said, the ELPD utilized categories constructed by the Michigan State Police, which operates the statewide Records Management System. Gonzalez said that different software explains the differences in categories prior to 2014.

Gonzalez stated that officers are the individuals who make decisions on what to record as a person’s race during arrests and officer-initiated interactions. 

The data from 2010 to 2013 is only available in aggregate. The 2015 to 2018 data can be grouped because of how it’s reported. Data from 2019 only included percentages, not total numbers.

The data shows shifts in which racial and ethnic categories are included as options over the last decade. Hispanic and Latino were never included as options, and terms for Indigenous peoples appear, change, and disappear throughout the decade. ELi will be using the categories provided by the ELPD in the data sets available to us.

From 2010 to 2013, a total of 6,377 arrests were made by ELPD — 18%, or 1,256 individuals, were qualified as Black by the report and 74%, or 4,722 of those arrested, were qualified as white.

Nathan Andrus for ELi

Of the 2,208 arrests in 2014, race and ethnicity data was not provided in the annual ELPD report. It appears that, when compared to data sets from other years, data on arrest reports are incomplete.

From 2015 to 2018, ELPD arrests were down when compared with previous years. For these four years, a total of 5,880 arrests were made. However, the racial and demographic disparity in arrests increased. 

Despite Black people making up 7.8% of East Lansing’s population, 36% of arrests (2,114 people) from 2015 to 2018 were identified as Black or African American. White people, who make up a little more than 70% of East Lansing’ population, accounted for 48.4% of arrests (2,846 people).

Nathan Andrus for ELi

Statistics from 2019 show potentially worsening trends in racial demographic disparity. White people accounted for 43.7% of all arrests made and African American people for 41.7%.

“I felt really concerned about the pie charts showing the over-representation of African Americans in all of the three categories,” Committee member Chris Root said. (Root has previously reported for ELi on numerous topics.)

Nathan Andrus for ELi

ELPD has not yet made arrest reports for 2020 available, but Gonzalez provided the Study Committee with Officer Initiated Contact Reports that show data from February to September of this year. A total of 2,555 contacts were made during those eight months, with African Americans encompassing 19.6% (500) and white people making up 63.9% (1,632) of all reported interactions.

Nathan Andrus for ELi

Officer Training and Racial Representation

Gonzalez’s presentation on Oct. 26 also addressed officer training and provided a breakdown of the ELPD departmental structure. The racial and ethnic categories used to categorize ELPD officer and staff demographics do not match the categories in the Officer Initiated Contact Reports from the same year.

There are currently 51 sworn police officers in ELPD, along with 26 civilian staff members. Thirty-seven, or 72.5%, of officers are white, along with 21, or 80%, of the civilian staff. African Americans make up 10% of the officers and 4% of the civilian staff.

Courtesy of ELPD presentation.

The number of white and African-American officers show parity with the racial and ethnic demographics of the population in East Lansing, but the share of Asian officers – only 4% of the force – does not accurately reflect the population of Asian residents in the city, which totals 12.8%.

Nathan Andrus for ELi

Gonzalez described the initial and on-going training that ELPD officers undertake as sworn-members of the police force. All must attend basic training for 15 to 17 weeks, followed by departmental-specific field training, which typically lasts about four to six months and consists of 600 hours of training at minimum.

In terms of on-going training, ELPD officers must participate in annual in-service trainings that update officers on things like legal procedures and local ordinances, first-aid training, and de-escalation methods. “Use of Force” trainings are also required yearly. 

ELPD have also begun including “Scenario-Based Training,” in which officers interact with actors playing out specifically designed scenarios to test the officer’s ability to perform according to ELPD guidelines in approximated “real world situations.”

Gonzalez also emphasized the “Diversity and Cultural Awareness” trainings ELPD officers have taken part in since 2016. Since the start of the program, all ELPD sworn been educated on de-escalation techniques, diversity awareness, autism awareness, and “Fair and Impartial Policing-RESPECT Training” – the last one completed since July 2020.

Statistics were also shared about other diversity awareness trainings and how many officers participated over the last four years. Since 2016, four ELPD officers have participated in “Conversations about Race” trainings, one in “Race and Law Enforcement in the Urban Community,” and 26 in the “Implicit Bias and Use of Force in Decision Making.”

Typically, the department budget for ongoing trainings is between $25,000-$35,000 annually, according to Gonzalez, so the department must be “selective” with which officers they send to each training.

Gonzalez was asked about ELPD’s plans for ameliorating the racial arrest disparity, with Early Intervention Systems (EIS) as one suggestion of how to do this. EIS, also referred to as early warning systems, are internal accountability systems that analyze an individual officer’s actions in order to identify potential problems with bias early on. EIS can keep track of complaints against officers, how often they use force on the job, and other “red flags” that can alert departmental supervisors to intervene.

Gonzalez said ELPD has looked into utilizing an EIS for the specific goal of tracking use-of-force incidents as well as complaints against officers. The tracking system that they believe will be most effective, Blue Team, is customizable, though potentially too expensive. Gonzalez argued that, “three-to-seven thousand a year really can be cost prohibitive for us.”

Currently, the department is doing “some preliminary research” on these systems and software, according to Gonzalez.

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