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East Lansing officials considering revisions to policing practices

City of East Lansing

Officials in East Lansing are considering how to adjust policing practices after a report proposed nearly 100 recommendations to reform its public safety strategy.

The city hired the firm CNA to research the state of policing in East Lansing. The firm analyzed data from the police department and conducted a listening session to hear from community members. The group shared its findings with the city council last week.

The firm's final report recommends the East Lansing Police Department revise a number of policies that it calls “poorly written.” That includes making guidelines clearer for reporting use-of-force instances.

Kath Edsall is a member of the Independent Police Oversight Commission. She agreed with the report's findings on improving use-of-force reporting. She highlight past police encounters, including the case with DeAnthony VanAtten, who has been charged with seven felonies after allegedly running into a Meijer store with a gun in April.

Edsall said officers had their gun drawn when they approached VanAtten's vehicle that contained his girlfriend and her child. ELPD policy notes "removing a handgun" out of its holster and displaying it against an individual is a use of force. But Edsall said the instance was not considered use of force.

"We're not reporting use of force in any sort of way that is consistent," Edsall said.

Erick Williams is also a member of the oversight commission. He agreed with the CNA's observation that policies surrounding crisis interactions with people who have a mental illness requires "significant revision."

"When we get 911 calls about people who are in crisis, we should send responders who can be (of) help," Williams said. "We shouldn’t automatically send responders whose primary training is with guns and whose primary focus is law enforcement."

The report also concludes community members feel a disconnect between the police department and other city officials.

East Lansing Police Chief Kim Johnson says the department plans to work with the Independent Police Oversight Commission to revise its policies and get public feedback. He says the department can develop trust with the commission and City Council.

“I think we all need to try and just be more productive when we come to the table together, and try to work on a common solution to some of the issues that are raised,” Johnson said.

Edsall said the first step to creating unity between officials is for the department to recognize it has issues to address. She hopes the police department can collaborate with the commission and City Council.

“There needs to be more cohesion if we're going to make the improvements that are needed in this community,” Edsall said.

Edsall also said she has issues with the report’s analysis of traffic stops for Black residents. The report uses a "veil of darkness" analysis to compare traffic stops for Black drivers at night, when officers plausibly can not identify a driver's race, with the daytime patrols. That analysis concluded that Black drivers are stopped at a "statistically non-significant magnitude" of 1.08 compared to white drivers.

Edsall says she thinks the report did not acknowledge other ways law enforcement could identify a driver was Black, such as running their license plate or looking at the vehicle's model or condition.

"We know that there are racial and economic connections that have been historically made. ... When you just stop, older model, beat up cars, and so forth, you increase the likelihood you're going to be stopping Black people," Edsall said.

"That is not to say that all Black people are poor. In any way, I don't mean to imply that. But when you have a higher connection to poverty and race, particularly in some of our surrounding areas, you know, you can stop the older cars and certainly come up, you know, basically a fishing expedition."

Johnson says the department will take a holistic approach and evaluate each recommendation in CNA's report. He added the department will seek to implement best practices over the next two-to-three years to maintain its accreditation status.

Arjun Thakkar is WKAR's politics and civics reporter.
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