By CAITLIN McARTHUR
Capital News Service
LANSING — Lack of training funds and outdated cultures in smaller departments are among the factors interfering with improved police-community relations in Michigan, state officials say.
Michigan is turning out better police recruits than ever, but many are moving into departments that are still ruled by old-fashioned cultures, said Matt Wesaw, executive director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.
“We’re training today the best police officer that we’ve ever trained,” said Wesaw, a retired State Police trooper. “I don’t care what academy you go to, we are training the best police officers.”
New police officers typically receive training on how to interact with people of different cultures and counteract their own unconscious biases, Wesaw said. Michigan police officers must complete nearly 600 hours of training, and state troopers need 1,000 hours, said Michigan State Police Public Affairs Director Shanon Banner.
The problem, Wesaw said, is many new officers who don’t go to work for the State Police end up in small, local departments, some still under management of senior officers who have never had cultural competency or bias training.
“They have a little bit of a different view, and they say, ‘That’s not how we do things here,” Wesaw said.
The new recruits, said Wesaw, are more likely to adapt to the culture of their new department than to exercise what they learned in their academy training, because they want to keep their jobs.
But Robert Stevenson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, said he disagreed with Wesaw’s assessment of the problem. The challenge for local departments is not an old-boy network, he said, but lack of training resources.
“The days of what was occurring back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, those people are long gone, and our chiefs are very much aware of these issues,” Stevenson said. “The culture has changed.”
Stevenson said while it is now standard practice for academies to provide basic training covering police-community relations, any additional training on the topic is dependent upon a department’s budget.
“Depending on the resources, some of the departments have more money to train their officers,” he said. “At a time when training dollars are needed the most, they’ve been reduced.”
In some cases, said Stevenson, training dollars have almost been eliminated. The state needs to dedicate training dollars for department use, he said.
The Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards eliminated its competitive funding grants this year — a program which used to provide 40 percent of training funds, Stevenson said. The move was made in response to cuts to the commission’s own budget, which was slashed due to a fall in officer numbers statewide.
“We used to have several million dollars in grant funds,” Stevenson said. “Now at the same time our training budgets have been reduced, they’ve also cut our training grant dollars …there are zero dollars coming back.”
Wesaw wants training in community-police relations to start at the top, with police chiefs and department heads, but Stevenson said departments are struggling to find the funding to provide it.
Stevenson runs an annual police training conference. He said this year’s, which is June 21 to 24, will focus primarily on police-community relations, but fewer than half of the 140 chiefs who belong to the association can afford to attend.
Recent violent police encounters with citizens around the country and in Michigan have been linked to lack of training, said Stevenson, who acknowledged that areas of the state have police-community relations problems.
Steve Spreitzer, president and CEO of the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, noted recent incidents of a beating in Inkster and fatal shooting in Saginaw that drew public scrutiny.
“A lack of commitment to community policing puts a police force and its citizens at risk,” he said by email. “We simply can’t undervalue community relations.”
Spreitzer said not enough hours are devoted to cultural competency training for new police officers and, echoing Stevenson, said officers receive too little follow-up training through their careers.
The only area in which officers receive ongoing training and recertification upon leaving the academy, Spreitzer said, is in weapons use.
“This is, of course, very important, but it is odd that this is all that is called for in the area of re-certification,” he said.
Spreitzer said police departments need policies, procedures and performance metrics that prioritize police-community relations.
The Michigan State Police does not have lingering culture problems with untrained officials, Banner said. The department’s officers qualify for retirement after 25 years, and the majority of the force has received cultural competency and unconscious bias training.
Community outreach, she said, is a major focus area for the department and a priority for the director, Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue. Recent news reports indicate the State Police’s number of black troopers has declined by about half since 1993, now representing about 5 percent of the force.
Spreitzer said he’d like to see more efforts to attract diversity to law enforcement in the state but acknowledged that it is a complex and widespread problem.
Efforts to improve police-community relations and officer training need ongoing commitment and honest evaluation of leadership, he said, and they need to start at the top of the command chain.
“I think some police departments really understand authentic community relations, while some simply manage the citizens under the illusion of engagement,” Spreitzer said.
Stevenson disputed the suggestion that police chiefs and departments aren’t doing enough to improve community relations and provide additional training. Almost every department, he said, is running or trying to introduce initiatives to improve police-community relations.
“You want our chiefs to do more?” he said. “Then someone has to provide us with the additional dollars to do more.”
By CAITLIN McARTHUR