Snyder aims to build public trust with police standards

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Dimondale — Acknowledging national events have “strained relationships” between police and citizens around the country, Gov. Rick Snyder on Tuesday signed legislation and an executive directive giving new authority and responsibilities to the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards.

The bipartisan bill package requires that the commission develop new training standards for officer licensing, mandates that officers disclose certain criminal charges against them and authorizes development of new minimum state standards for local reserve officers.

Snyder is also directing the commission to prepare a public report on “fostering public trust in law enforcement” by May 2017. As part of the process, the commission is being directed to hold as many public meetings “as practical and reasonably necessary” to ensure input from all parts of the state, including communities where public trust is determined to be most at risk.

“Over recent years in our country, we’ve had a lot of challenges with the public trust and the relationship with law enforcement,” Snyder said at a signing ceremony at Michigan State Police headquarters in Dimondale, where he thanked officers and officials from multiple jurisdictions who joined him for the event.

“In Michigan, I’m proud to say we’ve avoided any major problems, but you can’t take that for granted, and you need to be proactive on this topic.”

Snyder, along with state legislators gathered for the signing, frequently alluded to recent instances of civil unrest in cities like Charlotte, North Carolina, that were prompted by police shootings of black residents.

“It’s a complicated situation, so I don’t think you can have one simple solution to it, but what we hope to do is bolster up our standards,” said Law Enforcement Standards commission Chairman Jerry Clayton, sheriff of Washtenaw County. “We’re hoping to set a state architecture that will guide other agencies.”

Additional training requirements for new officers could include areas like “implicit bias” or “cultural competence,” said Clayton, who added the commission will conduct research before finalizing new standards, including ongoing education.

Sponsoring Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, said she began working on the legislation five years ago after an officer in her district was convicted of selling drugs but did not lose his MCOLES license.

The new laws will require that licensed officers inform the state commission if they are charged with certain crimes or subject to a personal protection order. The commission would be authorized to investigate any violations.

The package will also codify a “clear and consistent” set of guidelines for reserve police officers, Schuitmaker said. Oakley made national news last year after reports surfaced that the village of 300 residents 35 miles northwest of Flint had more than 100 reserve officers.

“In my community in southwest Michigan, we are fortunate to have some outstanding reserve units, but in some cases around the state, we have seen questionable use of these officers,” Schuitmaker said.

The commission report is also expected to include recommendations to boost diversity in police recruiting and officer training on interacting with those suffering from mental health issues.

Snyder said he continues to favor increased use of police body cameras, telling reporters the commission could make a recommendation to that effect, or the issue could still be addressed through separate legislation.

“I think body cams can be effective under the appropriate circumstances,” he said.

Harvey Hollins, Snyder’s director of Urban Initiatives, said state police and the Michigan Department of Civil Rights have already had some success with programs designed to facilitate healthy interactions between police and communities.

The new legislation and executive directive will built on those efforts, he said.

“Civic and community engagement really is the fuel that creates vibrant and safe communities where people want to live, work and play,” Hollins said.

Also attending Tuesday’s signing ceremony were Sen. Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage; and Reps. Klint Kesto, R-Commerce Township; Pete Lucido, R-Shelby Township; Harvey Santana, D-Detroit; Jim Tedder, R-Clarkston; Vanessa Guerra, D-Saginaw; and Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit.