The Michigan State Police (MSP) Friday morning is rolling out new department accountability initiatives, including the creation of a citizen advisory council and a new website devoted to transparency in policing.
In an exclusive interview, MSP Director Col. Joseph Gasper told the Advance that the advisory body will help bridge the gap between law enforcement and the communities they serve — while releasing internal data, including use-of-force incidents and traffic stops, will create a new layer of transparency and allow racial disparities to be identified and addressed.
The idea to create the advisory board had been in the works since 2019, when Gasper was appointed MSP director by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. But this year’s resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement against systemic police brutality further highlighted the department’s need to hear from and listen to the people it serves, Gasper said.
“I think it’s very important that we pay attention to our current environment,” Gasper told the Advance. “… At the end of the day, law enforcement really has the authority that the public wants to give it. And during this time of cultural transformation, citizen advisory groups like this play a very important role in making sure that we’re listening and having that dialogue at all levels.”
The Bridges to BLUE (Build, Listen, Unite, Engage) Citizen Advisory Council is composed of 10 citizen volunteers from all corners of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Members range from middle school principals to religious leaders to business owners.
Although a citizen advisory board for a city or university police department is not unusual, few states have one for their statewide police force. Gasper said the board members were chosen with diversity (of race, age and geography) in mind to get a full breadth of perspectives from across the state.
“What we anticipate is getting a very community-based perspective and a free exchange of ideas, so that as we are navigating through reforms. … We can hear from various parts of the communities in order to make the best decisions and understand the impact of what we’re trying to accomplish,” Gasper said.
The new accompanying data website will now detail MSP policies, training requirements, recruiting and staffing numbers, use-of-force and traffic stop data and more.
“We are trying to be as transparent as possible,” Gasper said.
The data goes back until 2011, although it is more polished starting in 2015. The department plans to update the numbers at least once a year — more often, if possible.
The hope is that by making the data publicly available in one place, the MSP can build more trust with residents while taking a closer look at its own practices.
“The traffic stop data might get some attention,” Gasper said.
MSP’s trends show that traffic stops of Black drivers are not only disproportionately high compared to Michigan’s overall Black population, but that their frequency has increased by 3 percentage points over the last three years.
In 2017, about 17% of traffic stops involved a Black driver. That number jumped to about 19% in 2018, then again to just over 20% in 2019.
Only about 14% of Michigan’s population is Black.
According to a report from the nonprofit Detroit Justice Center (DJC), low-income and Black drivers are disproportionately subject to traffic fines that can easily become larger, more expensive entanglements in the criminal justice system without the money to pay fines.
The MSP began voluntarily publishing statistics about police use-of-force earlier this summer as part of a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)-led national data collection program. Now, all that information and other related data points will be in one place for the public to access.
“The Michigan State Police Transparency and Accountability website to proactively make department data, policies and information publicly available is another step forward in our continued efforts to strengthen police and community relations and build trust with all Michiganders,” Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown told the Advance.
Gasper says the MSP will be hiring an independent third-party company to look closer at their data, examining other possible contributing factors, as well. The company will then use that review to identify new strategies that can be implemented to mitigate some of those disparities.
Simultaneously listening to the community through the new advisory board will then help the department put improvements into place, which will hopefully provide a chance for the public — particularly Michiganders who are disproportionately targeted by the police — to feel like the police are on their side, he added.
“We’re definitely there to build those relationships and listen to the public. And I think this is a really strong step in that direction,” Gasper said.