When Christine Root became Vice Chair of the Independent Police Oversight Commission in East Lansing in January 2022, she knew it was important to examine how institutions of power influence their communities.
“Because the police have the power to arrest people, and because they carry guns, that’s an important agency to focus on,” Root said. “They have a lot of authority over people’s lives.”
Initially, the Human Rights Commission was responsible for receiving public complaints about the East Lansing Police Department. As his role began to evolve in the community, he met with members of the city council and agreed that a separate commission should be created to deal with ELPD-related situations.
Councilwoman Dana Watson was a member of the Human Rights Commission when she received complaints related to the police department. She appreciates the importance of an independent monitoring commission dedicated to handling complaints in the service of the community.
“As we know, historically, the police have been able to operate in a way that’s sort of out of balance with the people they serve and the consequences if something goes wrong,” Watson said. “It’s important to have groups like the independent commission that can deepen that analysis. A group dedicated to understanding policies, asking questions and making suggestions for change. »
However, the commission is not responsible for receiving complaints from the public alone. He is also there to make recommendations for policy changes that he brings to City Council.
“The commission is fully advisory, it’s the council that makes laws,” Root said.
At each committee meeting, a representative of the ELPD was present for its discussions. Appointed by the Chief of Police, Cpt. Chad Pride was the representative present at all meetings.
“To be able to answer questions that come from the commission or to give information or education about things that are going on within the police department, within the criminal justice system that the commission has no maybe not fully aware, I think it can be beneficial for the commission,” Pride said.
Pride has been captain of the ELPD for about three months, but has worked in the department for more than 22½ years. He has been attending committee meetings since its first in November 2021.
“We really want this oversight board and the police department to work hand in hand,” Pride said. “We agree [with the commission] that we should be held accountable. We are a public entity and we report primarily to the community.
In November 2020, East Lansing City Council declared racism a public health crisis, demonstrating that it believes racism is ingrained in all institutions and must be addressed.
“People have described East Lansing as sunset town in the past,” Root said. “Where it wasn’t safe for black people to be on the streets after the sun went down.”
Currently, the commission is working to provide policy recommendations to the council to ensure that officers cannot lie on its reports and that it must file its reports as soon as possible. Although these are already considered policies, the commission advises council to pass an ordinance to further protect them.
“They just introduced this ordinance the other night in reference to falsifying a police report or police document as a city ordinance,” Pride said. “There has been a state law enacted for years that has the same language. What the commission is considering is trying to make it a local ordinance as well.
Once the commission makes a recommendation to the police department, the city ordinance states that the ELPD has 21 days to respond to its request.
“If it’s a request in the policy, the 21-day policy is very difficult to meet in that window,” Pride said. “It’s one of those things that as long as I give an update on what’s going on, they’ve been okay with that update.”
Pride said the department faces several hurdles to put the recommendations provided by the commission into practice.
“We have to make sure that we follow different collective agreements, labor law, state law, federal law, all that stuff before we can put anything into it. [policy]said Pride. “If we put something in the policy and it doesn’t match those and we apply that to our employees, then the city can be sued by the employee. We need to make sure that this information is what we want. »
The commission is made up of a diverse group of people. Together, the commission works to solve community issues related to policing and create meaningful change for the town of East Lansing.
“Our commission represents our community,” Watson said. “I think if it weren’t for our police oversight board, we would have caught a lot more heat. But we have an independent police oversight commission that can investigate incidents and problems. »