Editorial: Police review should help prevent shootings

The Detroit News

Gov. Rick Snyder and Michigan lawmakers took a proactive step last week to try to improve community relations with law enforcement, even though no high-profile conflicts have arisen here recently.

The governor signed an executive directive as well as a multi-bill package that instructs the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards (MCOLES) to review and update its standards for police officer conduct.

It’s a forward-thinking move, particularly as the relationships between law enforcement and certain communities and groups throughout the country have become increasingly strained.

A high-profile incident could happen here as easily as in any other state, and it’s smart to have preemptive initiatives.

The executive directive instructs the commission to consider the status of community relationships and what factors might impact the public’s trust of law enforcement. It will hold public events across the state to determine what communities are most at risk for a break-down in relations with the police.

The plan could use more outside review — it will be law enforcement that determines the level of trust and risk in the various communities, and the reasons for bad relations.

That’s not as objective as it should be. Still, the intent of the directive and accompanying legislation is in the right place.

Law enforcement is also supposed to review its training requirements to help improve community relations, which includes training on how to recognize implicit bias training, de-escalation techniques and police interactions with those who have mental health issues.

Those training initiatives are critical. Many of the incidents that have sparked controversy throughout the country have revolved around the confusion by police officers in how to confront someone who might be mentally ill, and around how to deal with a situation that doesn’t have to turn fatal.

The Detroit Police Department, for example, is considering increasing its use of Tasers. Simple changes like that could prevent unnecessary deaths in complicated standoffs between police officers and citizens.

Detroit has also started using body cameras to record interactions between officers and citizens. Snyder has said that while details pertaining to privacy rights and how cameras would be paid for still need to be sorted out, he generally supports them being used statewide.

Currently about 50 law enforcement agencies in Michigan have body cameras or are testing them, according to the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. Cost to implement the programs and hire staff to help handle the material that’s captured is the biggest deterrent.

Police departments must put in place cost-saving measures, including reviewing the tapes only when specific conflicts arise.

Snyder’s directive may not prevent the uncalled for shooting of a civilian, or the violent response from the community that may result, but it is an important step to demonstrate Michigan is doing all that it can to make sure that doesn’t happen.