© 2022 Michigan State University Board of Trustees
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

East Lansing Independent Police Oversight Commission to begin reviewing complaints soon

East Lansing police car driving in downtown East Lansing at night, there are groups of students in the road behind the car
Dylan Lees
/
East Lansing Info
The East Lansing Police Oversight Commission began meeting in November.

The city of East Lansing’s Independent Police Oversight Commission formed last year has now been meeting since November.

The group is tasked with reviewing complaints against city police officers, among other duties. Its 11 members are nearly all East Lansing residents, including two social workers and one psychologist.

Heather Brothers is a reporter with East Lansing Info following the work of the group.

WKAR's Sophia Saliby spoke with her about her reporting.

Interview Highlights

On why the commission was formed

City Council passed a resolution in May of 2020 to form the study committee that worked for nearly a year to outline the parameters of what the oversight commission would look like. And they set that out because of various things going on in the community and around the nation concerning racial discrepancies in police stops and arrests and things like that. And East Lansing just wanted to address that problem locally.

On the data the group is collecting now before reviewing complaints

They've been discussing, you know, what things they want from ELPD, like they want to know, like, the age of people that are involved in stops with them and use of force. They want to know the race of people, ethnicity, where they live. So, they want to start gathering this data so they can identify patterns because part of their overall goal here is to deal with what racial discrepancies have shown up in the policing data in East Lansing in specific.

On the commission's relationship with the police department

The relationship has been fairly good, and the police at the commission meetings have offered more data as they've been advised by the commission saying like, "Hey, we would like this data. Can you give it to us?" They've been pretty good about that thus far.

Interview Transcript

Saliby: The city of East Lansing’s Police Oversight Commission has now been meeting since November.

The group is tasked with reviewing complaints against city police officers, among other duties. Its 11 members are nearly all East Lansing residents, including two social workers and one psychologist.

Heather Brothers is a reporter with East Lansing Info following the work of the group, and she joins me now. Thank you for being here.

Heather Brothers: Thank you for having me.

Saliby: To start from the very beginning, what was the catalyst for the creation of this commission?

Brothers: City Council passed a resolution in May of 2020 to form the study committee that worked for nearly a year to outline the parameters of what the oversight commission would look like.

And they set that out because of various things going on in the community and around the nation concerning racial discrepancies in police stops and arrests and things like that. And East Lansing just wanted to address that problem locally, so they formed this study committee that eventually formed the oversight commission last summer.

Saliby: The commission has only met a handful of times. What has their work been focused on primarily so far?

Brothers: Primarily, they've been focused on administrative duties thus far. They're not only here to intervene in problems with the East Lansing Police Department right now. But they're also doing all the work to set up a system that will be effective in capturing patterns and preventing things for the future.

So, since they're a brand new commission, they've had to do a lot of housekeeping tasks first. So, setting up the website, deciding on a budget that they're going to present to council, those kinds of things. So, they so far, have not discussed the use of force complaints, or sorry, use of force incidents and the complaints against the police department.

Saliby: How have they talked about, you know, not meeting this primary objective, which is, of course, talking about these use of force instances against the police department? How have they kind of justified the fact that they're not quite yet towards doing their, their central objective?

Brothers: I think there is a lot of anxiety about them, you know, within the commission about them not getting there yet. But they do a lot of talking about why it's important that they focus on data collection and setting up, you know, the formulaic things that are going to guide the commission in the future.

So, they do a lot of discussion on why it is important that they get the right information from the police. So, they've been discussing, you know, what things they want from ELPD, like they want to know, like, the age of people that are involved in stops with them and use of force. They want to know the race of people, ethnicity, where they live.

They want to start gathering this data so they can identify patterns because part of their overall goal here is to deal with what racial discrepancies have shown up in the policing data in East Lansing in specific.

So, they want to start gathering this data so they can identify patterns because part of their overall goal here is to deal with what racial discrepancies have shown up in the policing data in East Lansing in specific. So, I think they're trying to set that up in a way it's going to work for them in the future, too.

So, they are conscious that they haven't talked about the current use of force reports and the current complaints, which they are going to begin doing next month, according to them.

Saliby: Does the commission have any authority to discipline officers if they find there's been misconduct?

Brothers: Not, not really, so they can make recommendations to the police and to city council. But ultimately, city council has a lot of say over any kind of investigation process that would occur. So, the oversight commission can pretty much look at the data and identify, you know, let's say certain police officer is showing up in a lot of use of force incidents, right?

So, they can look into that and say, "Hey, I think Officer 'so and so,' we should look into her, right? Because she's perpetrated a lot of use of force in the past two months."

They can do investigations, but they can't actually discipline police officers.

So, they can make recommendations. They can do investigations, but they can't actually discipline police officers.

Saliby: And how has the police department, itself, spoken about its relationship to this very much independent commission?

Brothers: The police have been pretty steady presence at the meeting since the study committee originally formed. So, the chief, Kim Johnson, was there for most meetings, as was, at the time, Deputy Chief Steve Gonzalez, and now the police, usually Lieutenant Chad Pride is at the commission meetings.

So, there is steady presence, and when they are at the meetings, they often say things like, you know, "We will get you what you want. We're here to support you. We support the ordinance." The relationship has been fairly good, and the police at the commission meetings have offered more data as they've been advised by the commission saying like, "Hey, we would like this data. Can you give it to us?" They've been pretty good about that thus far.

Saliby: You mentioned the commission will be tackling some of these use of force complaints next month. What is the plan to address those?

Brothers: Yeah. There are a few that come out every month at least, but they are going to start talking about complaints in specific next month, not necessarily use of force, but the first five complaints. Because there were, I think, 14 complaints against ELPD officers in the last year, so they're going to start talking about those.

Saliby: Heather Brothers is with East Lansing Info. You can find more of her reporting at eastlansinginfo.news. Thank you for joining me.

Brothers: Thank you.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Sophia Saliby is the local producer and host of All Things Considered, airing 4pm-7pm weekdays on 90.5 FM WKAR.
News from WKAR will never be behind a paywall. Ever. We need your help to keep our coverage free for everyone. Please consider supporting the news you rely on with a donation today. You can support our journalism for as little as $5. Every contribution, no matter the size, propels our vital coverage. Thank you.