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ELPD hires independent firm to review policing practices, hears from residents

Albert Avenue photo
Courtesy photo
City of East Lansing

The East Lansing Police Department is working with an independent firm to hear from residents on what it could be doing better.

The department hired the non-profit research firm CNA to review its performance. At a virtual listening session this week, residents spoke about issues the department faces, including staffing shortages, public safety on MSU game days and the treatment of people of color by officers.

Some residents shared stories of being pulled over by ELPD officers and said they did not trust them to provide fair treatment to all members of the community.

One resident claimed he had been pulled over by an officer who thought he was “running away from him." The resident received a ticket for an old license plate, and he said he does not trust the ELPD officers because of his personal experience.

“As a Black man going into the East Lansing area, I don't feel safe,” he said. “If I see an officer, I do tense up. I'm obeying all the traffic laws, but it is definitely a stressful situation due to the fact of previous engagements.”

Mayor Ron Bacon says the city is reviewing its policing practices as part of its accreditation. He says the city is committed to developing trust between residents and ELPD, even when it’s difficult.

“I think some of these are the growing pains of trying to kind of reroute or reshape how police what policing looks like, and for this time,” Bacon said. “And I don't think it's pretty and people are getting to see it in the public eye. But I think that’s mostly what people are seeing is, we are working at it.”

Other community members voiced concern with East Lansing’s Independent Police Oversight Commission. Several shared worries that members of the commission lack the experience to influence police reforms.

“I do not believe the oversight [commission] often understands the entire situation that's going on, and yet feels free to direct,” one resident said. “I find a lot of things that are going on in terms of the treatment of our police officers to be unconscionable.”

The concern follows the commission and city council’s decisions to formally ask Attorney General Dana Nessel to drop charges against a man shot by East Lansing police outside a Meijer in April. DeAnthony VanAtten has been charged with seven felonies after allegedly running into the store with a gun.

Bacon says the commission is one of the most challenging for the city to run because of its difficult subject matter. He hopes residents can understand the value of giving civilians a voice in community policing practices.

“I understand the frustration,” Bacon said. “But I know the importance of police oversight succeeding, I understand the importance of morale and support for the police. And we're going to try to strike that balance.”

Bacon says the city will review CNA’s evaluation and look for ways the department can improve its performance.

Arjun Thakkar is WKAR's politics and civics reporter.
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