LANSING, Mich. —
Nearly a year to the day since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, lawmakers in the Michigan Senate have introduced a bundle of bills addressing police accountability.
The package of 12 bills would ban the use of chokeholds as a restraint method, prohibit no-knock warrants except in certain circumstances, and add requirements to include implicit bias and de-escalation training for officers.
The bills are part of a bipartisan effort to reform policing in Michigan.
“We all, I think, are still very much remembering very vividly the images from George Floyds murder,” said state Senator Stephanie Chang who serves as the vice-chair of the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. “With the one-year anniversary of [Floyd’s] death, we wanted to make sure that we are pushing forward some solutions to really get at improving police accountability and transparency.”
Chang’s bill would require use of force policies to include a continuum beginning with a verbal warning, exhausting all other alternatives before using deadly force.
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The bills are sponsored by legislators representing both rural and urban areas of Michigan.
“This is an opportunity for us to unite to protect all Michiganders with proactive measures that will put in place the best practices from law enforcement agencies across our state,” said State Senator Roger Victory, R-Hudsonville, in a statement. “I believe we all have the shared goals of improving policing, community interactions and public perceptions while supporting the many courageous police officers who keep our families safe.”
Victory’s bill included in the package would develop guidelines for independent investigations of officer-involved deaths.
“I also think it's very important that we have very clear and consistent policies regarding use of force across our state,” Chang said. “We know that some agencies actually have been strengthening their policies, which is great. But we do want to make sure that we're further strengthening them and that we're actually making sure that no matter where you are in Michigan, that you'll know sort of what the minimum standards are.”
Chang said the bills have been in the works for many months alongside discussions with community members, law enforcement, activists, and lawyers.
“I think Michigan is behind honestly. I think that we see a lot of other states have already adopted many of the things we’re talking about,” she said. “So we need to make sure that we’re really taking a hard look at what we can do better, how we can make sure that we’re preventing some of these tragic occurrences from happening.”
Police advocates like Ken Grabowski, who serves as a legislative director with the Police Officer Association of Michigan, disagrees.
These bills "are interfering with the operation of law enforcement through legislative action and they're taking away the authority that's been granted to chiefs and sheriffs and the labor organizations to represent their officers," he said, "If I were an officer and all this passed as is, I would quit."
Grabowski said issues within police departments should be left to the police departments themselves instead of turning them into criminal offenses.
"None of the bills are good, everyone has a flaw," he said. "A lot of this is being done as optics for certain political parties to show that they are trying to do the right thing for people that feel that policemen have been overreacting on some incidents."
But Chang said the bills will make a difference.
"I can say with certainty that they will make a difference because we know that there are national studies that actually show that by adopting many of these policies, you can actually see a correlation between some of these policies and fewer police killings, fewer incidents, and actually improve safety of the officers," she said.
Chang went on to note that, although the bills won't fix every problem, they are a step in the right direction.
"We can't bring George Floyd back. We can't bring Breonna Taylor back. We can't bring so many of these individuals back. But what we can do is try to work together to find some solutions that can prevent some of these tragedies from occurring in the future and really make sure that we have a better system,” she said. “I think that if we can even save one life, two lives, that is absolutely worth it. And so I do think that these bills will make a significant difference for our communities.”
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