Michigan Senate unanimously approves requiring implicit bias training for police

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — As national protests against police brutality continue, the Michigan Senate unanimously approved Thursday a bill that would require police officers to go through implicit bias and de-escalation training.

The proposal, which faced opposition from some law enforcement groups, describes implicit bias training as "an evidence-based program to provide fair and impartial law enforcement by increasing awareness of and improving response strategies to unconscious bias."

Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, spoke in support of the bill on the Senate floor Thursday morning, asking her colleagues at one point how they want to be remembered.

"If we can change what goes through an officer's mind when they encounter one of our community members who doesn't look like them, we can change the outcome," Chang said.

The Republican-controlled Senate voted 38-0 for the bill. The vote came 10 days after George Floyd's death in police custody in Minnesota ignited national outrage focused on law enforcement's handling of black Americans.

But Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, who sponsored the bill, said it wasn't a response to Floyd's death. He began circulating the proposal before May 25, the date of Floyd's death. He said the proposal was spurred by "countless other incidents of police brutality."

Detroit Police make a line across Gratiot Avenue before eventually moving in to break up a protest after an 8 p.m. curfew in Detroit, Michigan on Tuesday June 2, 2020.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Irwin said, "Our communities are calling for change."

Sen. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, who chairs the public safety committee, said the bill was over due.

"I am surprised that it hasn’t been taken up over the last 20 years” Lucido said.

The bill requires the training standards for new officers beginning in 2022 and for other officers who haven't previously completed the training. It also requires continuing education "in subjects related to law enforcement."

The bill was opposed Thursday by the Michigan Sheriffs' Association and the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police.

Robert Stevenson, executive director of the police chiefs organization, called Floyd's death "horrendous." But he said the Legislature shouldn't dictate training standards for law enforcement. That job should go to professionals who work in law enforcement, and much of the training in the bill is already happening, he said.

People marching to protest the death of George Floyd are arrested on Gratiot near Outer Drive, in Detroit, June 2, 2020. The protesters were detained after violating an 8pm curfew.

Police officers go to work willing to risk their lives, Stevenson said.

"I've listened to the vilification of our profession for the last week or so, lumping all of our police officers in," he added.

But Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton spoke in support of the proposal, arguing that it was about mitigating risk. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic governor, included Irwin's bill Wednesday in a set of police reforms she's supporting.