East Lansing police oversight commission releases first report

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Nicoline Bradford

Chris Root and Erick Williams discuss the report with interim city manager, Randy Talifarro.

The East Lansing Independent Police Oversight Commission presented its first annual report to the East Lansing City Council on June 20 during a regular council meeting. 

Established in 2021, the commission was created to examine policing in East Lansing and to create guidelines that ensure police accountability. 

According to Ordinance No. 1503, the commission’s purpose is to “increase accountability of the East Lansing Police Department and to strengthen conditions leading to trust in the police department by the community that it is pledged to serve.”

Dana Watson, the co-council liaison on the commission, said that the 2022 police shooting at the Meijer on Lake Lansing Road was a major incident for the newly formed commission, and centered their focus on police violence and use of force. 

Chris Root and Erick Williams, both members of the commission, presented the report. 

Williams said that access to the use-of-force reports is essential to the commission’s success and is a good source of anecdotal data. 

During the presentation, he said that since October 2021, there have been 250 reported encounters. 

While these reports are important, the report stressed that the goal is not to place blame on individuals. 

“Policing is a network, it’s a system of components that not even all the police know are there,” Root said.

Williams said that scapegoating was not productive. 

“The man that was shot at the Meijer store was prosecuted coming out of it,” he said. “To think of him as responsible for what happened is to miss the point. I’m coming to think that thinking about the individual police officers involved also misses the point, which is the behavior created by the system.”

The report covered new findings about policing in East Lansing. 

According to the report, 56% of all use of force incidents in East Lansing were against Black people, who only make up 12% of the population. 

The report also stated that 24% of use of force incidents in 2022 in East Lansing involved someone in a mental health crisis. 

“These interactions can be difficult and complex,” Root said. “This suggests that there is a need to improve use of force policy and training.”

Root also said that the racial disparity of officer-initiated contact has also increased since April 2022. 

“Now that the council is committed to independent oversight by setting up the commission, it’s important to develop the capacity to produce accurate data that can be reviewed and analyzed over time,” Root said. “In addition, there needs to be a commitment to report this information regularly to the public.” 

Randall Talifarro, the interim city manager, asked if the data could identify individuals who were frequently involved in incidents. 

“Names of certain officers show up, show up and show up again, but I’m cautious to call out specific names,” Erick said. 

Talifarro has previous experience within policing and suggested that any commissioners or council members who hadn’t been on a ride-along do so. 

Watson agreed but also said that officers should meet with commissioners, so there is a “circular understanding of what it is we’re about and that we are in this together.”

Council members commended the commission and thanked them for their work. 

Addressing the East Lansing Police Department, Talifarro said, “I know it’s not easy to have people scrutinize your work, but I think it’s a critical part of the system and the process that’s necessary to have checks and balances.”

Following the report, the council approved various rental licenses. 

A public hearing took place for a special use permit and a new liquor license that would allow the Jolly Pumpkin on Albert Avenue to expand the restaurant and serve more brands of alcohol. 

It moved forward without any objection from the council or the public. 

The council also discussed a development agreement with PK Companies that would redevelop a property at 333 Valley Court and provide potential low-income housing. The final decision was postponed to allow for further consideration. 

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