Public officials are jumping over each other these days with their policing reform ideas.
From the national level to the local level, the video of George Floyd’s disturbing death has spurred enough outrage that long-sought ideas like periodic law enforcement training requirements are flying through legislative chambers with zero debate.
Policy designed to deescalate tensions in the Black community and police is quickly pushing aside the COVID-19 as policymakers’ new No. 1 concern.
Discussion on defunding police services? Uh, … we’ll get to that.
But first, U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly, whose district includes Ingham County, was burning up her cell phone calling Black leaders in the days after Floyd’s death. One day, she had a Zoom call with 40 leaders. She’s talked to leaders from the NAACP, Black Lives Matter, various other groups were on the horn with her.
What was she hearing?
“Exhaustion,” she said. “They said, ‘I can’t believe we’re doing this again.’ The things that they protested in their youth, their grandchildren are now having to protest.”
The 8th District Congresswoman is thinking about those conversations as the U.S. House prepares to vote on its Justice in Policing Act, tentatively on June 26. This first-ever national standards on policing would ban chokeholds, no-knock warrants and racial profiling.
It would limit military equipment on the streets and require body cameras. Qualified immunity for police would end, making it easier for people to recover civil damages from bad cops.
Leaders from both parties from all levels of government are also being spurred into action.
The U.S. Senate is putting together its own racial justice and policing reform package. President Donald Trump is crafting his own recommendations.
At the state level, Attorney General Dana Nessel wants state licenses to be pulled by any law enforcement officer who engages in conduct that is “detrimental to the reputation, integrity or discipline” of his or her department.
The Michigan State Police is setting a 25% goal on the number of Black recruits it brings into trooper school.
Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, State Sen. Stephanie Chang, House Speaker Pro Tem Jason Wentworth and law enforcement leaders are supporting a national data collection database to track incidents of police use of force.
The state Senate unanimously passed a bill requiring additional police training in de-escalation techniques, implicit bias and crisis intervention for existing officers.
Locally, Lansing Mayor Andy Schor steered $170,000 away from the Lansing Police Department into a new Racial Equality and Anti-Racism Fund.
“There will be some type of reform,” said Robert Stevenson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. “If we look at our citizens as our customers and we look at the protests that are taking place, clearly some of our citizens are unhappy with our service.”
Protesters’ demands to “defund police,” however, is a political stink bomb that only the most liberal lefty is supporting. Slotkin, for example, supports “re-imagining” how police services are delivered, but she’s not in favor of disinvesting.
No matter how you slice it, taking money away from police is a political loser. Nobody wants to pick up the phone to find an officer will respond to an emergency when he or she gets around to it.
Want to chase away law-abiding, taxpaying residents from a city and attract troublemakers? Scaling back a police force would be a great start. Reducing money to departments will mean fewer programs, fewer officers and longer response times, Stevenson said.
“They used to say, ‘We’ll do more with less,’” Stevenson said. “I will tell everyone who is listening, we will do less with less.”
Still, the reform bills are easy “yes” votes these days, but the action can’t start and end in government rooms, Slotkin said. Racial tensions and police violence are not a public official problem. It’s an everybody problem.
When she sees protests in Howell and Brighton and Holly and Leslie and Mason and Oxford and Clarkston and Rochester Hills, Slotkin said she sees that people of all nationalities are getting it.
“It’s not enough anymore to just stay quiet. When you see someone be racist, you have a responsibility to engage and be anti-racist,” Slokin said. “It’s not someone else’s fight. It’s not someone else’s problem. It is our problem and our fight.”
(Kyle Melinn of the Capitol news service MIRS is at email@example.com.)