Lansing City Council member seeks repeal of police ordinances

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A Lansing City Council member proposed repealing ordinances that permit city police to charge residents with misdemeanors punishable with up to 90 days in jail. 

At a Lansing City Council meeting on Feb. 8, Brian Jackson introduced 15 ordinances to repeal that will be discussed by the Council and reviewed by police at upcoming meetings.

In a Feb. 4 memorandum, Jackson wrote that police have the discretion to charge residents for simple violations of ordinances, such as loitering near where controlled substances are sold, playing in streets and engaging in boisterous conduct.

Why did Jackson introduce the proposal to repeal ordinances? 

Jackson said he considered police reform and because of his background as a public defender.

As an Ingham County assistant public defender, Jackson deals with many cases involving misdemeanors, and when Jackson was an assistant Lansing city attorney, he prosecuted some misdemeanors.

“I realized that the consequences to misdemeanor crimes are very expansive beyond just having to go to jail sometimes and get arrested or pay fines and costs or be on probation,” Jackson said. “Also, people lose their jobs, they lose their cars, their family gets split up and a lot of other things.”

Jackson said he examined Lansing’s code that lists misdemeanor crimes and examined if each one warrants the current sanctions. For each ordinance, Jackson considered if it is something that Lansing residents think is worthy of investigation and punishment. 

For example, Jackson noted one ordinance, loitering in a drug area, allows police to charge an individual for being near a drug sale. 

“So now it just gives the police overreaching discretion to basically question and do whatever they want to anybody in that area, instead of targeting people who are possessing drugs or selling drugs which are both illegal under state law,” Jackson said.

The 15 ordinances considered for repeal organized by general categories. Graphic by Jack Harrison.

What is next for the proposal?

Council Member Patricia Spitzley said the Council will hear from departments impacted by the proposal, which includes the police, courts and the Lansing City Attorney’s Office.

Spitzley said the ordinances will be discussed by the Council’s sub-committee on diversity, equity and inclusion.

“When looking at repealing ordinances, it is important to make sure that all parties potentially impacted have the opportunity to provide input and information on how these changes will impact their operations,” Spitzley said. “This is not a quick, nor is it a simple process.”

Jackson said he anticipates criminal justice professors might attend the committee. The committee will vote on each ordinance and each would then be discussed at a public hearing.

Then, ordinances would return to the subcommittee before a vote by the Council.

How do Lansing residents view the proposal and police reform?

Jackson said many residents support the repeal.

“Since I’ve introduced these and asked people for their input, I’ve heard a lot of people, mostly for, but also some against,” Jackson said. “I’ve encouraged everybody to come to Council Committee meetings and to voice their opinion throughout the whole process.”

Lansing resident Tomas Keck said he is in favor of repealing the ordinances.

Growing up playing in the street with friends, Keck said there is no reason for police to arrest children for this and he believes some misdemeanors are overreaching. 

Keck said that his friends said they experience frequent police patrols in their neighborhoods.  

Keck believes this proposal to repeal ordinances is a good step to reduce incarcerations and address systemic racism. 

Spitzley said some community members are “totally supportive of the police,” others want “total defunding of the police” and others are in the middle.

“There is a group that is supportive of the police but understand that there needs to be some reform and they expect us to be thoughtful and deliberate in our review of the LPD and any changes we may suggest,” Spitzley said. 

Jackson said he hopes people keep an open mind and understand that the proposed repeal will not cause more crime. They are still prohibited under other ordinances and state laws.

“Our officers shouldn’t want to have that type of discretion just because I think that when it’s applied disproportionately in certain neighborhoods, it damages the community-police relationship,” Jackson said.

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