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Jackson could create a community police oversight commission to promote transparency

Posted at 3:19 PM, Sep 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-20 17:15:36-04

JACKSON, Mich. — The city of Jackson may join the ranks of Detroit, Lansing, Ann Arbor, Grosse Ile and East Lansing by having a community police oversight commission.

The goal is to increase transparency and to create processes around policymaking for the department.

The proposal on the table would create a five-member board of residents or business owners that “reflect the city of Jackson’s diverse population,” according to a memo from Mayor Derek Dobies.

The commission would advise the director of Police and Fire Services, a position currently held by Elmer Hitt, on community relations, policies, procedures, rules, training, recruiting, hiring and “other applicable programming.”

The proposal would also give the commission advisory responsibilities on the budget, rules and regulations for misconduct, complaints and certain limited investigatory powers within the department.

There would be a city-appointed liaison to work with the committee and the police department.

“I think that having a continual review from the city’s perspective outside of just the police department is something that can be of value to both the public and the police department,” Dobies said.

Dobies says that, for him, this came out of the protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in 2020.

“There was a strong desire for cities all across our state to review their use of force policies. I mean, if you think about it, our use of force policies that allow the use of deadly force are some of the most important policies that we have in place here at the city,” Dobies said. “Myself, the city manager and the chief of police sat down and actually reviewed our use of force policy, made some pretty good changes based on feedback that we were hearing from the community."

But that process, he said, "should not just come in terms of conflict or crisis or tragedy or waiting for the next movement to arise and demand those changes. We can be very proactive with our police department and engage the community, not just the mayor and some bureaucrats, but engage the community in reviewing those policies and making recommendations what changes may be necessary.”

Hitt met with retired Lansing Police Chief Mike Yankowski multiple times to discuss and get advice over how these police oversight commissions work.

“He said many times it was very beneficial actually having that in place when dealing with different types of community-police-related issues,” Hitt said. “So, I do welcome it and embrace it. Certainly in today’s world of law enforcement, I think the more transparent you can be with the community, the better.”

Dobies hopes the proposal will create community engagement.

“When you engage the public in helping to create, having input into those rules and processes that police officers follow, I think that you create a public that is more apt to validate those rules and procedures when they’re put into effect. I think that can be the case here in Jackson, too,” Dobies said.

For Hitt, community involvement could bring a perspective that police otherwise wouldn’t hear.

“Sometimes an outside of perspective may bring different ideas or new ideas that we had maybe not thought of before or looked at from a different lens. Certainly, I am open to that. I think the department is open to that external perspective and taking that into account,” Hitt said.

Jackson resident Peter Bormuth spoke to the City Council about his concerns over the language of the ordinance, which says the committee should reflect the community in terms of income level, race, ethnicity, faith, age, gender, sexual orientation and experiences.

“The city attorney believes that because the language is inclusive, it will pass constitutional muster. I don’t think you can choose people for a commission because of their faith. I don’t think you can choose people for a commission because of their sex. I would hope that you will all look at that language, see how it can be abused,” Bormuth said.

The second reading of the proposed ordinance is planned for the Sept. 28 City Council meeting. Hitt believes it will pass. Once Council passes an ordinance, it goes into effect 30 days afterwards.

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