EAST LANSING, Mich. — A group of eleven people in East Lansing including city staff, former police officers and a Michigan State University student have spent the last seven months deciding if the city should establish an independent police oversight commission.
Their recommendation to city council is yes.
In May of 2020, the City Council established a study committee on an independent police oversight commission following allegations that city police used excessive force in two different arrests.
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“We had a police oversight committee that was tasked with creating the framework for a police oversight commission,” said East Lansing Mayor Aaron Stephens.
The committee held their first meeting in October and analyzed public police records, finding that Black people are generally treated worse during traffic stops.
Based on their findings, the committee presented their recommendations and report to the public and Council.
“They put in the effort, they put in the time and now we have this end result which will hopefully yield one of the most comprehensive police oversight commissions in the state,” Stephens said.
Anna Fisher is a resident in the city and spoke in favor of an oversight committee at the March 29 public comment meeting.
“We have got to get this right, Fisher said. "For centuries there’s been disproportionate stops and arrests of black people and this is a historical moment. This is our chance and we can not screw this up.”
Fisher said she's happy the city is moving in this direction.
“It makes me proud of East Lansing that we’re willing to move so positively in this direction," said Fisher. "I think there’s a lot more we have to do, but I see very little resistance to forming this independent police oversight commission.”
This would be the first police oversight commission in the city, according to Stephens, and he said it's needed.
“Policing in itself is an area where we give a position of power to somebody who is not elected, who is not necessarily accountable to those people they have that power over," he said. "So, it is important there’s a higher level of accountability.”
If City Council creates the commission, the city will begin taking applications from people who want to sit on the board. It will be made up of community members from diverse backgrounds. No city staff member or employee of the police department will be allowed.
“A priority on some folks that were on the study committee, definitely a priority on folks in those populations that have really in the past few years that’s been highlighted, but definitely in our country's history that have been systemically hurt by over policing," Stephens said.
Fisher said with more accountability and transparency from the police, trust can be rebuilt.
“Clearly biased policing has not been effective and protecting black and brown residents who live in East Lansing," said Fisher. "So, hopefully at the very least, we have to start with that truth and make things right.”
The recommendation will be presented at the June 8 Council meeting. A vote on the permanent board is expected June 15.
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