Whitmer rolls out reforms to prevent police brutality

Lansing police brutality protest, May 31, 2020 | Anna Liz Nichols

As large-scale protests against police brutality and racism continue in Michigan and beyond, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday announced a series of policy proposals to increase accountability for Michigan law enforcement officers.

Whitmer also noted a number of actions being taken by the Michigan State Police (MSP) to support the goal of a more transparent and racially equitable police culture.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives an update on COVID-19 | Gov. Whitmer office photo

“The deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor were a result of hundreds of years of inequity and institutional racism against Black Americans,” Whitmer said. “Here in Michigan, we are taking action and working together to address the inequities Black Michiganders face every day. 

“That’s why I’m calling on Michigan police departments to strengthen their training and policies to save lives and keep people safe. I am also ready to partner with the Michigan Legislature and law enforcement officials to pass police reform bills into law.”

In the press release, Whitmer announced that she is:

  • Requesting that the Michigan Commission of Law Enforcement Standards (MCOLES) provide guidance to law enforcement agencies on continuing education that will help officers keep up with new laws and issues facing the community, including diversity and implicit bias training
  • Encouraging police departments to participate in efforts that are underway to achieve comprehensive reporting on police departments’ use of force
  • Urging law enforcement agencies to implement “duty to intervene” policies, like those taken up by the Southfield and Lansing police departments, to ensure that officers intervene upon observing another officer doing something inappropriate or illegal

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Whitmer also said she is calling on the state Legislature to act on Senate Bill 945. Introduced by state Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), SB 945 would require incoming law enforcement officers to undergo training on implicit bias, de-escalation techniques and mental health screenings.

For the MSP’s part, under the leadership of the governor and MSP’s Whitmer-appointed director Col. Joe Gasper, the department says it has:

  • Created an equity and inclusion officer position within the MSP (currently occupied by Lisa Rish)
  • Established community service trooper positions to institute a community policing concept statewide
  • Posted all non-confidential department policies online to increase transparency
  • Implemented recurring implicit bias training for all law enforcement members
  • Assisted in the development and pilot of a nationwide implicit bias training for civilian personnel
  • Generated a public-facing transparency web portal for Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests 
  • Revised MSP’s pursuit policy to limit the circumstances in which officers can engage in a vehicle pursuit

The MSP notes that it also has a goal in place to diversify the MSP’s trooper applicant pool to 25% racial minorities and 20% women by 2022 — although it does not set these goals for the actual makeup of the force, as evidenced by a notable lack of diversity in the department, as the Advance previously reported.

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“The role and responsibility of police officers in our society is a great one; one in which our authority is derived from the trust and support of the people we serve,” Gasper said. “Our members take an oath to protect and serve all people, and in this time, we cannot stand on the outside looking in. We must listen and take action, reviewing our policies and practices to work together to pave a path forward where everyone has a voice and all are treated equally as human beings.”

Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, Lansing Police Chief Daryl Green, state Sen. and Michigan Legislative Black Caucus Chair Marshall Bullock (D-Detroit), state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit) and Grand Rapids City Manager Mark Washington have also echoed their support for the series of policy proposals.