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East Lansing Police Oversight Commission hears best practices on use of force policies

City of East Lansing

East Lansing’s Independent Police Oversight Commission is planning to review how city law enforcement approaches use of force.

The commission held a public hearing Wednesday to hear experts describe best practices for use of force policies and training. The hearing was held at the Michigan State University College of Law, a co-sponsor of the discussion.

Experts shared findings from the American Law Institute. The commission also heard from representatives from the Police Executive Research Forum as well as Black Lives Matter Lansing and Black Lives Matter of Michigan.

They highlighted the importance of law enforcement using the minimum force necessary and making de-escalation a priority in police encounters.

Chris Root is the vice chair of the commission. She said one of the ideas they brought up is not always sending an armed officer to every request for help.

“There really is a movement for re-conceptualizing community public safety,” Root said. "In a number of cities, there are alternative response systems being developed, so that it's possible to get assistance from the social workers, from health workers who are not going to arrive with a gun."

The hearing came as a response to a petition from 33 East Lansing residents last year that asked the commission to study the use of force in the East Lansing Police Department and develop "well-researched recommendations."

That request followed an incident last year in which East Lansing police shot a man outside Meijer. DeAnthony VanAtten was charged with seven felonies after allegedly bringing a gun into the store.

The oversight commission and East Lansing City Council formally asked Attorney General Dana Nessel to drop charges against him.

Root said the review process overlaps with an external review of East Lansing policing practicescompleted last year. The report from research firm CNA recommended the department clarify polices around reporting use of force instances, calling them "poorly written."

But Root added any reforms to use of force will require a fully integrated vision to new training and implementing those procedures, not just rewriting department guidelines.

“If this is seen as an editing issue of a document, that's just not nearly enough,” Root said.

Root said the commission wants community members to be involved in the process of reviewing law enforcement procedures and developing recommendations.

Arjun Thakkar is WKAR's politics and civics reporter.
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