Racial disparities in use of force incidents, trouble gathering data and the Meijer shooting were some of the highlights from the East Lansing Independent Police Oversight Commission’s (ELIPOC) first annual report, presented to City Council at the Tuesday, June 20 meeting.
The presentation, given by ELIPOC Chair Erick Williams and Vice Chair Chris Root, was just over 40-minutes long and included several recommendations that would improve data collection.
ELIPOC chair addresses April 2022 Meijer shooting.
Speaking on the most notable incident ELIPOC has had to address, Williams said the police shooting at the Lake Lansing Meijer in April of 2022 was a “learning opportunity.”
“As you get into the details of complaints, use of force reports, the details of what happened at Meijer, it allows you to lift the hood of the police department,” Williams said. “As we do that, we can get an idea of what, if anything, needs to be changed in order to prevent the next incident.”
Williams said he hopes a process for reviewing incidents to see what could be improved is developed. He said policing is a system and incidents like the Meijer shooting shows the need to review factors beyond the officers directly involved. He said ELIPOC and the police union should work together to develop that process.
Williams said this review should look at the process of policing and avoid “scapegoating” people for specific incidents. He specifically mentioned DeAnthony VanAtten, the 20-year-old shot by ELPD at Meijer and later charged with seven felonies and a misdemeanor.
“To think of him [VanAtten] as responsible for what happened at Meijer, is to miss the point,” Williams said. “I’m coming to think that [blaming] the individual police officers who were involved in that incident also misses the point, which is the behavior of the system.”
Use of force statistics indicate racial bias in policing.
Root, who was credited with taking a central role in writing the annual report, went over statistics that showed ELPD is far more likely to use force against Black people than people of other races.
In 2022, 93 of 167 reported use of force incidents came against Black individuals. This makes up 56% of times force was used against individuals, despite only 12% of East Lansing residents being Black. In comparison, 36% of the incidents were against white individuals who make up 71% of East Lansing’s population.
The results show an even deeper racial disparity than what was reflected in a CNA report presented late last year. The CNA report found Black people to make up 37.4% of use of force incidents and white individuals make up 35.4%.
Root said much of the difference can be explained by the CNA report having more people classified as race unknown than the ELIPOC report. Additionally, the ELIPOC report examined 2022 statistics and the CNA report looked at data spanning from January 2016 to mid-November 2021.
There is also a racial disparity in officer-initiated stops, according to the ELIPOC report. In 13 of 28 months from September 2020-December 2022, Black individuals made up more than 25% of officer-initiated stops. ELIPOC recommended further data be collected on traffic stops and what follows each stop to analyze the disparity. Root estimated that about 90% of officer-initiated stops are traffic stops.
Additionally, the report shows that 24% of use of force incidents involved people experiencing a mental health crisis. This indicates ELPD could improve its use of force policy and training when addressing people in crisis, Root said.
Root said Captain Chad Pride, who has served as an ELPD representative at ELIPOC meetings, told ELIPOC that 15 officers have taken crisis intervention team training and eight more will this year. ELIPOC is recommending data be collected on whether that training reduces use of force incidents involving people in crisis.
Data collection and management is at the center of ELIPOC requests.
Many problems regarding data collection were found both in the CNA report and ELIPOC’s report, Root said.
One issue with the data made available to ELIPOC is it assigns all types of use of force used in a particular incident to all officers at the scene. This is despite ELPD having data that is specific to individual officers.
“This could disadvantage officers by exaggerating their use of various types of force,” Root said.
Additionally, when compiling the racial breakdown on use of force data, Root said ELIPOC hand counted 23 individuals to add to the dataset because there were multiple people involved in some incidents. This means 14% of the sample would have been left out of the dataset because ELPD is compiling data based on incidents and not individuals.
“Counting by hand is not really a solution,” Root said.
Root added that “many hundreds, if not thousands,” of small- to medium-sized police departments share East Lansing’s problems with data management. ELIPOC made three recommendations to improve data management.
The first is that ELPD “[implement] a new use of force reporting system that allows for better information entry, case tracking, review, analyses, and summary report creation.”
The second recommendation is that ELPD and ELIPOC, “Collaborate to identify a new system of data collection procedures, data management system and analysis and regular reporting… Have new system in place to analyze and report on use of force data in 2024.”
The third recommendation is that City Council, “Establish a schedule for regular reporting by the ELPD to the City Council and posting on the ELPD website at least annually of use of force, officer-initiated stops, traffic stops, and public complaints… Ensure adequate capacity and funding for regular quantitative analysis of these topics.”
Interim City Manager Randy Talifarro asked if there is data showing that certain officers are involved frequently in use of force incidents. He said it’s “critically important” to identify where there might be a problem to ensure ELPD leaders are able to correct misconduct.
“I think about the Derek Chauvin case and how it landed on everybody,” Talifarro said, referencing the 2020 police murder of George Floyd in Minnesota. “There was a part of me that knew that wasn’t the first time he had done that.”
“I know in my own experiences when I was a lieutenant or captain, when I would stop someone and say ‘We don’t do that’ their behavior would change,” he continued. “Not only for that incident but for future incidents… I also saw the opposite where people would sit by quietly.”
Talifarro clarified his police experience was not for ELPD.
Williams said going through use of force reports, he does see names of officers showing up frequently but he has been “reluctant” to call out individuals. He explained that ELPD has an early warning system that offers more robust data. But that data is not available to ELIPOC.
“It’s one of our problems is that we are independent of the police department, they treat us as members of the public, so they don’t tell us everything” Williams said. “How that early warning system works, how that personnel system works, would be something to look at.”
Talifarro said Public Act 312, a Michigan law addressing labor disputes in police and fire departments, may limit what ELPD can do with its internal data involving personnel issues.
Williams said most police review boards around the country are not public entities and, therefore, have more insight into police information systems. But the East Lansing oversight ordinance is designed so ELIPOC is transparent to the community.
“Everything we have is public information,” Williams said. “We’re treated as a conduit to the public and that means the firewall is between us and the police department. So, they don’t give us any information that they’re not willing to give to the public.”
Councilmember Dana Watson, who serves as a liaison to ELIPOC, praised the commission’s collection of data that showed racial disparities and expressed hope the data will be used to improve policing.
“As Black mother, as a Black person, I want to see better, we deserve better,” she said.