Police Reform and Oversight
As social justice activists work to bring attention to racist policing throughout the country, I believe it timely to revisit the local actions taken to improve policing in Ann Arbor. After Aura Rosser was killed by a police officer, Council member Sumi Kailasapathy and I asked the City’s Human Rights Commission (HRC) to research civilian police oversight and make recommendations to Council. When the HRC issued its report, city staff recommended hiring a consultant to audit the police department. That review consumed considerable time and resources.
In February 2018, I co-sponsored a resolution setting up a citizen task force to make recommendations on forming a community policing commission.
The Task Force met over a number of months and produced a recommended ordinance creating an independent, civilian oversight commission. When staff indicated that the Task Force’s recommendation ordinance would not be acted on, Council members Bannister, Kailasapathy and I placed their ordinance on the Council agenda. The Mayor offered a competing version of the ordinance that reduced the authority of the oversight commission.
One point of contention at the time the ordinance was adopted was the preamble language. Some Council members, including me, supported a preamble that placed the purpose of the ordinance in the context of the national history of racism in policing. At that time, the Mayor was critical of the statement acknowledging the national history of racism in policing. This week, the Mayor invoked that same national history of police misconduct while speaking to a crowd of activists.
Another point of disagreement was over the authority of the oversight commission to conduct its own investigation or just review the results of the internal police investigation. The mLive article about the vote on the oversight ordinance notes a statement by Council member Kailasapathy that proves to be prescient:
“Sumi Kailasapathy, D-1st Ward, cast the lone dissenting vote, arguing the mayor's proposal was a watered-down version of the task force proposal and she couldn't support it. In this case, she said, nothing was better than something, because she thinks the city is moving in a direction that will undermine credibility and trust.”
A slightly amended version of the Mayor’s ordinance was adopted. The adopted version did not give the oversight commission authority to conduct its own independent investigation or the authority to compel disclosure of needed materials related to an investigation. The adopted ordinance allows a review of a police investigation only after the internal investigation is completed, disciplinary and grievance procedures have concluded and all related litigation is finished. That can add a year or more of delay prior to the initiation of an oversight commission review.
I have consistently advocated for police oversight that is civilian, independent, and empowered. I believe that Ann Arbor has an excellent police department but that civilian oversight is essential to make further improvements. The experience that I have interacting with police is fundamentally different than the experience of African American men I know who are otherwise quite similar to me (older, professional, and middle class).
In addition to supporting the creation of a police oversight commission, I have worked to improve our police department by supporting efforts to diversify the department, efforts to improve officer training and efforts to create a community policing model of policing. Hiring Police Chief Michael Cox was an important element in the Council’s goal of improving policing in our community in that he supports community policing and his understanding of the need for increased police training.
I will credit Dr. Mozhgan Savabieasfahani for her consistent support of strong, civilian and independent police oversight. I do not recall hearing Jen Eyer take a public position on police oversight in the six-plus years that Council has been working on this issue.
Additionally, I would like to point to a news article about our Police Chief that includes a 28 minute interview with him about his efforts to introduce community policing to our community:
Finally, I would recommend reviewing the 8 Can’t Wait FAQ recently posted to the City’s web page explain the reform efforts the department has taken in recent years: