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East Lansing City Council Asks Prosecutors To Reconsider Charging People With Disorderly Conduct

police car
East Lansing Police Dept.

The East Lansing City Council wants prosecutors to be more discerning when charging people with disorderly conduct.

Council members adopted a resolution in July dealing with instances when police recommend the charge to prosecutors.

It instructs the city attorney to consider the underlying behavior of the people involved and whether police could have used a different approach.

According to the policy, the city attorney should not file disorderly conduct charges and dismiss ones already filed if doing so is in the interest of “justice and fairness.”

East Lansing Mayor Aaron Stephens says disorderly conduct can be defined in an overbroad way, leaving room for racial bias in enforcement.

“It’s basically like this catch-all for a lot of different things,” he said. “It's where you're going to find intoxication in public. It’s where you're going to find resisting arrest. It's where you're going to find having an altercation that doesn't amount to, you know, a felony assault.”

The City Council tightened up East Lansing’s disorderly conduct ordinance in 2020 to remove some of that broad language. The council also got rid of a section prohibiting women from being topless after noting the same rule didn’t apply to men.

A citizen-led police oversight committee began studying changes to the city’s disorderly conduct ordinance around the same time.

East Lansing police officers made 251 arrests for disorderly conduct in 2019, accounting for 27% of the department’s total arrests that year.

It was the second most frequent charge used by police after “obstructing justice,” according to a report from the police oversight committee. 

Mayor Pro Tem Jessy Gregg hopes the city can change its approach to policing to stop people from being overcharged.

“Police reform, in general, will be successful when we have many less prosecutions because we're trying to include processes that deflect people from charges, that create alternate avenues of rehabilitation [and] deescalate physical confrontation situations,” she said.

Sarah Lehr is a state government reporter for Wisconsin Public Radio.
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