Michigan officials zero in on police reform as nation decries police brutality

Michigan officials prioritize police reform amid national unrest over police brutality, racism

Protesters march in protest of the death of George Floyd, Saturday, June 6, 2020, in Detroit. The death of George Floyd at the hands of police last month in Minneapolis has sparked nationwide protests for police reform. (Nicole Hester/Mlive.com/Ann Arbor News via AP) (Nicole Hester, Nicole Hester/Mlive.com)

LANSING, Mich. – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced seven proposals Tuesday intended to initiate multiple facets of police reform amid national unrest over police brutality and the killing of Black Americans.

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Nessel’s office says the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards (MCOLES) “lacks sufficient authority to oversee law enforcement professionals and to revoke the licenses of police officers who demonstrate poor moral character or violate the public trust.”

Officials say the new proposals aim to create oversight for law enforcement agencies and officers in addition to establishing new approaches to evaluating misconduct complaints and disciplinary actions against officers.

“We must do more than just condemn bigotry and acts of excessive force committed by law enforcement officers. We must act,” said Nessel. “Today, I have announced seven proposals for police reform, but this is merely a start. Making meaningful and concrete changes doesn’t end here, but it’s crucial that we move first with measures which create better accountability and more transparency to the actions of law enforcement here in Michigan. This work is a marathon, not a sprint and I am committed to moving with all deliberate speed in making progress on this front.”

Nessel’s office listed the following proposals for police reform:

  • Authorizing MCOLES to suspend or revoke a license when an officer: (a) engages in conduct that adversely affects the ability and fitness of the police officer to perform his or her job duties; or (b) engages in conduct that is detrimental to the reputation, integrity or discipline of the police department where the police officer is employed.  
  • Mandating that law enforcement agencies maintain all disciplinary records of a police officer in his or her personnel file.  
  • Requiring MCOLES to create a statewide misconduct registry of verified claims that is accessible by the public.  
  • Amending the Public Employee Benefits Forfeiture Act (MCL 38.2701, et al.) so that officers forfeit their retirement benefits upon conviction of a felony related to misconduct while on duty.  
  • Mandating law enforcement agencies report use of force data, disaggregated by race, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion and age.  
  • Creating an independent investigative and prosecutorial process for deaths that involve the actions of law enforcement officers.  
  • Requiring continuing education for law enforcement officers as a license requirement; improving and standardizing police policies and trainings (including de-escalation, cultural competence and implicit bias trainings).  

The proposals can be read in more detail on the state of Michigan’s website here.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer also recently supported police changes following the killing of Black Minneapolis man George Floyd at the hands of a police officer. Whitmer has encouraged continuing education for law enforcement officers, and has supported legislation that requires increased implicit bias and de-escalation training for Michigan officers.

MORE: Michigan Senate passes bill requiring implicit bias, de-escalation police training amid national unrest

Officials say some Michigan law enforcement officers are required to complete these trainings, but the new bill would require all incoming officers to complete the training as part of their certification process.

In a statement, Whitmer said the deaths of Floyd in Minnesota, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky “were a result of hundreds of years of inequity and institutional racism against Black Americans.”

Some Americans are critical of police reform, arguing that reformations are not drastic enough to address the issue of systemic racism within the nation’s policing system. Instead some are encouraging a different public safety approach that reduces police budgets -- and, in effect, their presence -- and redirects funding to community programs and services that address the root causes of crime.

READ: Policing alternative: What a community-led public safety system might look like

Amid cries to “defund the police” Whitmer said she supports the spirit of the movement and is open to ending qualified immunity.

About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.