In little over two months, since George Floyd's murder at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, our collective societal thinking over what is right, and what is wrong, has been fundamentally changed. It is now well overdue to enshrine issues related to police reform and police use of force policies into law.
The well-viewed video of Floyd slowly dying as a Minneapolis officer kneeled on his neck for almost nine minutes sparked protests worldwide, as well as bipartisan legislation aimed at preventing future incidents and to provide more equal interactions between police and people of color. In mid-June, U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) said he had co-sponsored a bill will Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) to provide federal grants for police recruits who work in the communities they live in, as well as to advance legislation to create a congressional committee to perform an 18-month review of the criminal justice system and law enforcement practices – the first since the Johnson administration did the same in the 1960s. The Senate effort follows the June passage of the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 in the House of Representatives. The bill would limit qualified immunity protections, create a national police misconduct registry, ban chokeholds, restrict the transfer of military-grade equipment to police departments and make lynching a federal crime. At this point, the bill has not been picked up by the Senate.
Both Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel have also called for police reforms, and we believe a statewide law, or series of laws, is the more expeditious route, rather than waiting on labored national action and another study commission. Whitmer called for legislation that would make changes to police policies by banning chokeholds; limiting no-knock warrants; require an independent investigation for all police shootings or use of force resulting in the death of a civilian; and require that all departments implement policies for other officers to intervene if they see something improper take place. There may be other issues that need to be addressed, including mandating that police departments make public their policies on officers' behavior when interacting with the public, which will require a change to the Michigan Freedom of Information Act.
While not all state Representatives will be returning in January, whether because of term limits or election results, there is the opportunity for party leaders to either pass legislation in this term, or more likely, to ready the legislation in order to be introduced in January, with votes at the ready, and to convince members of both chambers that this legislation is in the best interest of all Michiganders.
Locally, residents are fortunate to have police departments that have brought their operating policies up to date. But it's time for adoption of laws that mandate improved policing activity for all departments, rather than relying on the proactive regulations to be implemented on a piecemeal basis at the local level.