Lansing Police Chief Pushes Back Against Calls To Defund, Says Department Is Underfunded

Jun 26, 2020

It’s been a month since a White Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd.

In the weeks since, there have been nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic injustice. Calls for change are widely varied - from increasing implicit bias training, to fully defunding and dissolving police forces in favor of expanded social services.

In Lansing, protestors have gathered to call for Mayor Andy Schor's resignation. Schor has committed some immediate change to the police department including reviewing use of force policies and banning chokeholds.

The city has also created a webpage for residents to access information on police transparency, the department's budget and complaints.

WKAR's Sophia Saliby spoke with Lansing Police Department Chief Daryl Green about the conversations currently surrounding policing.

Interview Highlights

On how Chief Green is addressing the moment with his officers

We came into this profession because we wanted to make a difference in our communities. We wanted to help those that are true victims in the sense of criminal justice system. We want it to be fair, we wanted justice for all. So I tell officers to go back to the basics, understand why you're here and understand this is a time of change and we have to do a better job of getting better.

Why Green doesn't support defunding

I look at just the national average for police officers per 1,000 residents is about 2.2. If we just were compliant with the national average of police officers [per] every 1,000, we would be at numbers or right around 260 officers. I have not seen 260 officers maybe the first or so year I was here. Right now, we're at 195 officers, but I do understand the message that many of the people are talking about when they say that, maybe there's a need for more social workers. Do I want to see more education? Yes, in our school systems. Do I want to see more counselors in our school system? Yes. I want everything those protesters are talking about when you talk about dealing with some of the social problems that police didn't, didn't ask to accept, but it was thrust upon us.

On LPD's protest response

There were some key points in that particular protest that went really bad. That really challenged us, and we made some critical decisions at that time to protect those that live in, reside and work in the downtown area. We made that decision. I stand firm in that decision, based on those variables that were in play. But however our policies and accountability, we have to examine what we did and or didn't do, and so that we're more prepared for any instances that happen in the future.

Transcript

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Sophia Saliby: This is All Things Considered on WKAR. I'm Sophia Saliby.

It's been just a month since a White Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd.

In the weeks since, there have been nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic injustice.

Calls for change are widely varied from increasing implicit bias training to fully defunding and dissolving police forces in favor of expanded social services.

Daryl Green is chief of Lansing's police department. Thank you for joining me.

LPD Chief Daryl Green: Thank you very much for having me.

Saliby: So how are you speaking to your officers right now about this moment?

I tell officers to go back to the basics, understand why you're here and understand this is a time of change.

Green: Well, I think one of the things when you talk specifically about policing, for most of us in this profession, there was a calling. We came into this profession because we wanted to make a difference in our communities. We wanted to help those that are true victims in the sense of criminal justice system. We want it to be fair, we wanted justice for all.

So I tell officers to go back to the basics, understand why you're here and understand this is a time of change. And we have to do a better job of getting better.

Saliby: You mentioned a little bit earlier that you feel like your force is ready for reform, ready for change. There have been other cities that have had reform-minded chiefs who have been public about how hard it is to make change happen. Do you think of yourself as reform minded and what does that mean to you?

Green: I think specifically when you talk about reform minded, having those policies before you have issues like a Minneapolis and just a horrific video of someone putting their knee on someone's neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.

As a police chief, I'm a risk manager. So, I look at the risk associated with different things. My mission is to safeguard not only the constitutional rights of our diverse community, but also provide safety and protection, have a force that's empathetic, that's respectful, and highly professional, and compassionate. We're looking at ways to get better. And, you know, that's a constant struggle.

And,I think when you talk about how the officers feel a lot of our officers and I've had to calm them down because they're like, "Chief, that's not us. You know, what they're asking for? We've been doing it for years." And I say, yeah, you're right. And they say, "well, Chief, you keep reiterating all the stuff we're doing." I said yeah, maybe we haven't done a great job of communicating to that, that message to our community, and so that's what we're trying to do now. Just explain, and do a better job of opening our doors.

Saliby: The call to defund the police, either partially or completely has grown louder during these protests. Your overall budget is nearly 47 million dollars. Are you in favor of reallocating some money from that budget to more social services and community programs?

I think the Lansing Police Department has been underfunded for my entire career.

 Green: I don't think I am. And I'll say this. What's the facts? I think the Lansing Police Department has been underfunded for my entire career.

And I look at just the national average for police officers per 1,000 residents is about 2.2. If we just were compliant with the national average of police officers [per] every 1,000 we would be at numbers or right around 260 officers. I have not seen 260 officers, maybe the first or so year I was here. Right now, we're at 195 officers, but I do understand the message that many of the people are talking about when they say that, you know, maybe there's a need for more social workers.

Do I want to see more education? Yes, in our school systems. Do I want to see more counselors in our school system? Yes, I want everything those protesters are talking about when you talk about dealing with some of the social problems that police didn't ask to accept, but it was thrust upon us.

The issues that I've mentioned homelessness, substance use disorder, mental illness, those are issues that can be handled by other entities. But unfortunately, those other entities don't have the infrastructure to handle those issues 24/7 seven like police do. So I think we're at a pivotal moment, whereas we can look and examine areas where we can more be effective and more efficient.

I want everything those protesters are talking about when you talk about dealing with some of the social problems that police didn't ask to accept, but it was thrust upon us.

But certainly, defunding police is only gonna, you know, hurt us more I think. Specifically because one of the first things that is going to go is the training and if anything that needs to be bolstered is the training and I did say the training is not a catch all. It's not going to solve everything. But it's certainly vitally important to having a culture that you want a police department  that embraces empathy and compassion and is respectful to its community.

Saliby: So Mayor Andy Schor has proposed moving $100,000 dollars from the police budget into a racial equity fund. The city council is still considering that measure. Is that something you support?

Green: I would say this, that I shouldn't be involved in the politics of it. Whatever funding the Lansing Police Department has, it is my job as the risk manager for the department to do my best to be effective and efficient in reducing crime and protecting constitutional rights, increasing the quality of life. And so for me specifically, I look at what I have [and] the resources I have. And you heard me mention that I want [and] I believe that the city is deserving of more resources to policing.

Specifically, because we're well below the national average per 1000 residents. And I want to see, I do also want to see, more social programs. Particularly for our youth. And I think there's, you know, an opportunity for, you know, the entire city to get better on a host of different issues. And Mayor Schor's certainly have been looking into that. And I think, you know, they'll make the right decisions and whatever budget the department has, we'll do our best to successfully navigate the quality of life for citizens.

Saliby: This is WKAR. I'm Sophia Saliby. I'm speaking with Chief Daryl Green of the Lansing Police Department about the ongoing conversations about police reform.

Would you change anything about how the city's police force has handled these recent protests including using tear gas or other chemical agents to disperse crowds?

Law enforcement deployed chemical agents on Lansing protesters.
Credit Karel Vega

  Green: We are looking at, you know, what happened during that particular protest. And we'll make an assessment. And again, we're trying to get better. We're trying to do a better job. There were some key points in that particular protest that went really bad. That really challenged us and we made some critical decisions at that time to protect those that live in reside and work in the downtown area.

We made that decision. I stand firm in that decision, based on those variables that were in play. But however, you know, our policies and accountability, we have to examine what we did and or didn't do, and so that we're more prepared for any instances that happen in the future.

Saliby: Do you feel like the public and especially communities of color in Lansing trust you as police chief? Green: Well, I will say this, I certainly understand the plight of many people. When you talk specifically about African American communities and people of color period, I understand some of the - personally understand some of the experiences that they've had dealing with the police.

Some have been negative experiences, I understand that. I'm doing the best I can do internally, to effectively navigate resources we have, effectively navigate policies and procedures, effectively listening to our people of color, of what they want. 

So I'm doing the best job I can. And I'm hopeful and optimistic that the community respects that and that the community is supportive, that they have an advocate internally that wants to do a great job for them.

Saliby: Daryl Green is the chief of Lansing's police department. Thank you for joining me.

Green: Thank you very much.