Improving upon police, community relations throughout Michigan

Posted at 2:07 PM, Feb 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-21 14:11:04-05

Law enforcement officers protect and police our communities to keep them safe. Sometimes, officers may be involved in a situation that could put a strain on how the community they serve view their department.

Having a relationship with the community is an important role for a police department. To ensure that this relationship stays strong in communities throughout Michigan, the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards (MCOLES) is looking to the public to learn how to better build the relation between the two groups.

“Law enforcement is made of people, and we have to police people,” said MCOLES Executive Director David Harvey. “Eventually, something will happen. Crimes are going to occur, and an officer may be involved in a critical incident.”

In October 2016, Gov. Rick Snyder issued an Executive Directive for MCOLES to perform a study and produce a report by May 1, 2017 to address the topic and produce recommendations of fostering public trust with law enforcement.

MCOLES, which is a state commission that sets standards for the law enforcement profession in Michigan, developed a plan that looks at three main topics: Community engagement, training and recruiting.

Harvey explained that MCOLES is doing this in several different ways, including research into local law agencies that have good relations with their community, working closely with other organizations, researching across the nation and reaching out to the communities to get input on how locals feel about law enforcement.

Public outreach

To reach out to the public and allow them to have their voice heard when it comes to how relationships between the community and officers can improve, MCOLES has been holding public forums in select areas and also has an online survey that can be filled out electronically or on paper.

“We have been trying to touch as many areas as we can,” Harvey said, saying that they could not have a public forum in each county, so they developed the survey to have further reach. “A lot of groups worked collaboratively with other organizations on the survey. We want to get it out to as many groups as we can.”

The survey is available here, and will remain open until March 20. After that time, the answers provided will be gathered and reviewed.

“We are asking people to fill those out as quick as they can,” Harvey said. “While we would like to leave it open for a long time, we have a deadline. We really want honest feedback. There is no tracking, but we do ask questions on demographics so we meet every aspect of the community.”

Based on the community input received, MCOLES will then make recommendations to the governor in the areas of training, recruiting and community engagement.

Importance of a good relationship

“Do we have a good relationship with the community?” said Harvey. “Do they trust that what we are doing is the right thing to do, and doing a fair and impartial investigation? Did the officers conduct themselves legally without bias?”

These are important questions, Harvey said, as they look towards the future of law enforcement in Michigan, and the relationship that is fostered within the community.

Harvey explained that Michigan is lucky, as there has been situations involving officers throughout the state, none of them escalated to the situation of riots or protests turning violent like in other parts of the U.S. A reason, Harvey said, is because the public trusts the departments to perform the investigation into the situations, and provides them time.

“We need the public to trust us to do that, and give us time to look into these situations before they get out of hand, so we don’t have violent protests in the streets like in other states,” Harvey said. “I think that we have that here, and that is why you have not seen Michigan in the media for violent protests. And we have had some major incidents that occurred that could have risen to those conditions.”

The reason those incidents didn’t rise to violent protests, is because those areas, such as Dearborn and Detroit, have worked hard to build and foster a relationship with their community.

Harvey explained that when areas involve the community, build relations and the people believe in the legitimacy of the law enforcement department to look into situations fairly and justly; the situations will not rise to violence.

“It’s building trust with the community, and reaching out,” Harvey said. “And that is what we are looking at. What do we have and how can we grow upon that. Everyone is a player, and it’s not just one aspect of a community. The police department serves everyone and needs to have a role in the community. When you do that, people are willing to give you some time when something happens.”

The recommendations that come from MCOLES will help law enforcement agencies throughout the state to be on the same page, and to look at examples on how to train, recruit and build relations within their community.