What the public wants from the East Lansing police

EAST LANSING – A committee tasked with establishing a police oversight committee in East Lansing met to hear public contributions on Monday as a critical deadline approaches for making recommendations to the city council.

The 11-member study committee for an independent police oversight commission was formed last May after Anthony Loggins Jr. and Uwimana Gasito were arrested for excessive violence against the ELPD.

The committee has met twice a month since October to determine what a police oversight agency in East Lansing might look like. It has examined police records and recommended reforms such as adding unarmed officers and two social workers to the ELPD.

Now, before the June 30 deadline for submitting its findings to the city council, the committee is reaching out to the people.

At the first of several planned public forums on March 29, attendees discussed reforms they want to see in the ELPD, including new rules for activating body cameras and renegotiated contracts for city police.

Here are three major takeaways.

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ELPD – and its governing body – should reflect East Lansing

Activists from East Lansing and Lansing attended the meeting and interviewed committee members about their results, progress and unfinished work in the ELPD.

Black Lives Matter Lansing leader Michael Lynn Jr., a critic of the Lansing police force, said East Lansing stood up to Lansing in introducing police reforms last year.

In addition to hiring social workers and unarmed officials, the city recently amended its Disorderly Behavior Ordinance to not punish women for being topless – a recommendation from the Study Committee.

Lynn said ongoing discussions about a permanent police oversight in East Lansing made him, as a black, feel that future complaints against ELPD would be investigated.

Farhan Sheikh-Omar, who has expressed his intention to run for mayor of Lansing, said East Lansing’s advances in diversifying his ranks have made him feel more comfortable in the city.

The fact that black and brown people hold jobs like city attorney and police chief shows how far East Lansing has come and hopes that new hires in the police department reflect the same diversity.

Of the 48 ELPD officers, five are black, three are Asia Pacific Islanders, five are Latinos, one is Middle Eastern and 34 are white, East Lansing deputy chief Steve Gonzalez said last week; 12 of the 48 officers are women, the rest are men.

Lee June expressed concern about the ability of the Permanent Police Department to effectively analyze complaints against ELPD. He said people with a “grassroots” background and a keen understanding of policing should have a seat on the board.

The committee re-examined a draft resolution from last year that determined who would be represented on the supervisory body. It recommends:

  • Two Michigan State University students who are also on the city’s student committee
  • Two people from the Human Relations Commission (East Lansing)
  • A person affiliated with the American Civil Liberties Union
  • A person affiliated with a civil rights organization (e.g. Black Lives Matter or NAACP)
  • A person who is an expert in law enforcement but not a police officer on active duty
  • Four residents of East Lansing
  • A city council person as a liaison person

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New rules for body cams

Currently, ELPD officials are required to activate their body cameras when “serving” with citizens, Gonzalez said. This includes answering phone calls, conducting searches and arrests, and interviewing witnesses and suspects.

At the meeting on Monday, Fonda Brewer of the NAACP in Lansing suggested turning on the body cameras every time an ELPD officer overtook someone.

Gonzalez said there are certain times an officer is allowed to go dark.

“If there is a good reason to turn off a body camera during an action that is far and wide in between, the officer must document it in writing and orally as part of best practices,” he said.

A body camera doesn’t need to be on to purchase items during a shift or break, Gonzalez said.

All-day recordings are not possible due to battery life and camera wear and tear during 12-hour police shifts, Gonzalez said. The cost of storing so much data is also prohibitive.

Several participants spoke about accountability negotiation measures in the new police treaty. Both the command and police officer contracts expire on June 30, Gonzalez said.

He declined to speak directly about negotiation, but said the commission and city administrator George Lahanas talked last week about “look back” periods of how long behavior should be taken into account in new cases.

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What’s next?

The study committee will present its recommendations for the permanent board to the council in June, East Lansing communications coordinator Mikell Frey said.

They will also forward a list of recommendations for the standing panel to District Attorney Michael Homier, said Quentin Tyler, a member of the East Lansing Study Committee and Human Rights Commission.

But more meetings first: The Study Committee will continue to hear public contributions throughout April, Chairman Chuck Grigsby said. They meet on April 12th at 6pm. The city council meets on April 13th at 7pm.

Contact reporter Krystal Nurse at (517) 267-1344 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @KrystalRNurse.

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