Police use-of-force data will now be released in Michigan

Sen. Stephanie Chang | Senate Democrats photo

Law enforcement, community organizations and elected officials on Wednesday announced the formation of the Law Enforcement Transparency Collaborative or LET-C.

The effort, they said, is designed to increase transparency and accountability and is connected to a national data collection effort on police use of force led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and Sen. Stephanie Chang | Senate Democrats photo

Attending the announcement at the state Capitol were: Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II; state Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit); state Rep. Jason Wentworth (R-Clare); Michigan State Police Director Col. Joseph Gasper; Michigan Sheriffs Association Executive Director Matthew Saxton; Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police Executive Director Robert Stevenson; and, Advocates & Leaders for Police and Community Trust co-Director of Programs Yusef Shaku.

The announcement comes amid increasing tensions between communities of color and law enforcement that has resulted in civilian deaths in recent weeks. They include George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky., and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta. 

Those incidents have led to continual mass demonstrations in more than 2,000 cities in the United States and the world, including Detroit, Grand Rapids and Lansing.

“We have an opportunity to reimagine the fundamental relationship of trust between communities of color and law enforcement, beginning with greater transparency and accountability,” Gilchrist said. “Everyone has a role to play to ensure that we can make the generational investment that will create a more responsive and just system of safety for every person in every community in Michigan.”

Chang represents one of the state’s most racially diverse districts in the state and has worked on reforms for several years.

(L-R): Col. Joseph Gasper, Yusef Shakur, Rep. Jason Wentworth, Sen. Stephanie Chang, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, Matt Saxton, Bob Stevenson | Senate Democrats photo

“This term, I am glad to work with community and law enforcement partners on our Law Enforcement Transparency Collaborative, encouraging 100% participation in reporting use of force incidents,” Chang said at the press conference. “Increasing transparency is critical to building more trust. Our communities are asking for change, and today’s announcement is one more positive step forward.”

At the request of law enforcement agencies around the country, the FBI began collecting use-of-force data in January 2019. Participation is voluntary, and under this collaborative effort, the Michigan State Police have taken on the task of organizing and releasing a public report containing the use-of-force data submitted to the FBI by Michigan law enforcement agencies.

“The Michigan Sheriffs’ Association has 100% enrollment in the National Use-of-force Data Collection program and continues to be national leaders in their use of force reporting,” said Saxton. “Law enforcement leaders around the state understand the need for transparency in reporting on their efforts to keep everyone safe.” 

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Three types of use-of-force events are captured by the FBI. The three event types include:

  • When a fatality to a person occurs connected to use of force by a law enforcement officer.
  • When there is serious bodily injury to a person connected to use of force by a law enforcement officer.
  • In the absence of either death or serious bodily injury, when a firearm is discharged by law enforcement at, or in the direction of, a person.

“Publishing statistics about police use-of-force in Michigan is a good first step to providing insight to the public and others into how police officers in Michigan are using force, which should lead to more informed and productive conversations about this important topic,” said Gasper.

Before the FBI started collecting data, there was no national governmental database for police use of force. The only prior existing database was started in 2015 by the Washington Post, and that contained data on fatal police shootings only. According to that database, there have been 78 police shootings in Michigan since 2015.

“With the recent murders of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor and Ahmed Arbury, now more than ever we need transparency, accountability, and reform within the criminal justice and court systems, and LET-C is a step in this direction,” said Shakur.

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The LET-C data collection initiative is designed to include the reporting incident date, the number and demographics of the officers involved, demographics of the subjects involved, and type of force used in the incident.

“Michigan has led the nation by providing a model for the rest of the country to emulate to get their police agencies reporting to the FBI’s National Use-of-Force Data Collection,” said Stevenson.

A total of 346 Michigan police agencies submitted use-of-force data to the FBI in 2019. Of these submissions, the majority of departments had zero reports of use of force, as defined by the FBI.

“I have appreciated working with Sen. Chang on this bipartisan effort,” Wentworth said. “This is a statewide issue, and through the support and partnership with law enforcement and community agencies across the state, collecting and publishing this data will help increase transparency.”

Gilchrist, Chang, and Wentworth encourage all police agencies in the state to participate in the LET-C project.

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Relatedly, Attorney General Dana Nessel on Tuesday announced seven proposals for police reform aimed at increasing transparency and accountability from law enforcement agencies.

The proposals aim to create oversight for law enforcement agencies and their officers similar to many of the professions and professional licenses required across the state, along with a comprehensive approach to evaluating misconduct complaints and imposing disciplinary actions by a single agency, Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards (MCOLES):

  • Authorizing MCOLES to suspend or revoke a license when an officer: (a) engages in conduct that adversely affects the ability and fitness of the police officer to perform his or her job duties; or (b) engages in conduct that is detrimental to the reputation, integrity or discipline of the police department where the police officer is employed. 
  • Mandating that law enforcement agencies maintain all disciplinary records of a police officer in his or her personnel file. 
  • Requiring MCOLES to create a statewide misconduct registry of verified claims that is accessible by the public. 
  • Amending the Public Employee Benefits Forfeiture Act so that officers forfeit their retirement benefits upon conviction of a felony related to misconduct while on duty. 
  • Mandating law enforcement agencies report use of force data, disaggregated by race, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion and age. 
  • Creating an independent investigative and prosecutorial process for deaths that involve the actions of law enforcement officers. 
  • Requiring continuing education for law enforcement officers as a license requirement; improving and standardizing police policies and training (including de-escalation, cultural competence and implicit bias training). 

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“We must do more than just condemn bigotry and acts of excessive force committed by law enforcement officers. We must act,” said Nessel. “Making meaningful and concrete changes doesn’t end here, but it’s crucial that we move first with measures which create better accountability and more transparency to the actions of law enforcement here in Michigan.”

The Michigan House on Wednesday also voted on a measure discouraging local governments “from defunding or abolishing their local police departments.” Some in the Black Lives Matter movement have called for this, asking for money to be directed to the safety net.

House Resolution 277 sponsored by Rep. Ryan Berman (R-Commerce Twp.) passed 79-29. Republicans are expected to try and use the vote as a wedge issue against Democrats in the November election.

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.