Nessel reform plan involves police misconduct database, tougher penalties

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing  — Michigan's top law enforcement officer laid out police reform recommendations Tuesday that included a state misconduct registry, forfeiture of retirement if convicted of on-duty misconduct and better reporting on use of force. 

The proposal, which would give a state commission more oversight authority, would seek to increase transparency and accountability within police departments, Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement. 

“We must do more than just condemn bigotry and acts of excessive force committed by law enforcement officers," Nessel said. "We must act."

Attorney General Dana Nessel

Nessel said she would work with community groups, the Legislature and law enforcement to develop the proposals and any other needed areas of reform.

“This is just the first step toward implementing positive change in our criminal justice system,” she said. 

Nessel's announcement came the same day President Donald Trump issued his own police reforms through an executive order called "Safe Policing for Safe Communities." The change include a database for federal, state and local agencies to share information on excessive us of force; law enforcement convictions, firings or civil judgments; and resignations in the midst of an investigation. 

Under Trump's order, the information on problem police officers would be made public "periodically" with the names of the officers removed. 

The Police Officers Association of Michigan said it looked forward to working with Nessel and other elected officials on potential reforms, but noted the association was consulted for few if any of the proposals. 

"They claim they’re going to work with us," said Kenneth Grabowski, legislative director for the Police Officers Association of Michigan. "...A lot of the things people are asking for are already being done, and they’re not aware they’re being done.”

Michigan State Police Col. Joe Gasper called the attorney general's reforms "another positive step" toward improving policing that merited additional discussion and review. 

"It’s important to acknowledge that true reform requires careful consideration from all involved parties, as well as a commitment to funding in order to meet the stated objectives," said Gasper, director for the state police. "I offer my full commitment, and that of my agency, in working alongside all who are interested in improving policing in Michigan."

The proposal would give the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards more authority to create a publicly accessible police misconduct database for verified instances of misconduct.

The commission also would be able to suspend or revoke a license if an officer is found to have behaved in a way that "adversely affects the ability or fitness" of the officer to do his or her job, or if the officer's behavior is "detrimental to the reputation of discipline of the police department."

Currently, the commission sets profession standards in police education, licensing, employment, selection and funding. Prior to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's addition on Friday of three community members and the Michigan Department of Civil Rights director to the commission, the 19-member panel included one member of the public and 18 others associated with policing, criminal defense and prosecution. 

Nessel also suggested law enforcement agencies keep a record of all disciplinary actions in the officer's personnel file; strip officers of their retirement benefits if convicted of a felony misconduct while on duty charge; and require continuing education for officers, including training on implicit bias and de-escalation.

The attorney general's proposal also encouraged reporting of use of force data by race, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age and sex; and would create a process for the independent investigation and prosecution of cases involving a death at the hands of a police officer.

Earlier this month, Nessel expressed support for “substantive structural change” to policing, but she stopped short of supporting calls to defund law enforcement. 

Nessel, a Democrat, former defense lawyer and Wayne County assistant prosecutor, said on Twitter that she had friends in law enforcement who have given their lives in defense of others. Change can be accomplished without vilifying police, she wrote. 

“Calls to abolish police departments and destroy their funding sources are not the solution,” Nessel said.