Complaints against MSU police first reviewed by only one person
This is part two of a series on dysfunction in the MSU Police Oversight Committee. Part one gave a general overview of the committee and covered how little it had met in the last three years. This part looks into the type of complaints heard by the committee and how state law plays a role.
According to the MSU Police Oversight Committee's Statement of Purpose, "Complaints credible in nature will require the Chairperson to contact the complainant to confirm the details of the complaint, and subsequently notify and forward the complaint to all Committee members."
Council of Graduate Students member Robert Vankirk, who sits on the oversight committee, said this is a concern as it gives the power to one individual, the chair of the committee, to determine if a complaint is credible or not before the whole committee has chance to hear it. Vankirk also noted the current chair of the committee has "connections to the university."
Vankirk was referring to the fact committee chair Deb Bittner is the president of the Coalition of Labor Organizations at MSU.
The issue of the chair having to deem a complaint credible before sending it to the committee was addressed in the letter sent from COGS to the MSU Board of Trustees and Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, June Youatt.
"That the determination of credibility of a case is determined by only one individual is concerning, as this defeats the purpose of a committee process," the letter stated. "Further, failing to thoroughly vet all complaints would constitute a failure to carry out the responsibilities of the committee outlined in its' own policy."
Bittner said she does not have to deem the complaint credible before sending it the committee, in contrast to the oversight committee's Statement of Purpose.
"If the oversight committee is specifically asked to review it, then it is reviewed whether it has merit or not," Bittner said.
According to state law, "The committee shall receive and address grievances by persons against the public safety officers or the public safety department of the institution."
The oversight committee's website states a complainant can write, email or call a hotline in order to file a complaint for the committee to hear.
The complainant must specifically file with the committee, meaning if they were to call MSU police with a complaint it would be handled by the department and would not be heard by the oversight committee.
MSU police Capt. Doug Monette said the complainant must reach out to the committee for it to be heard.
“If (a complaint) came through the police department, that would not go into the oversight committee," Monette said. "We would handle it. That’s dealing with our employees.”
Vankirk said he believes this is in violation with the portion of state law.
"My interpretation, as well as some other people's interpretations that I've spoken to, states that this committee is tasked with all instances, all complaints and reviewing all complaints or allegations," Vankirk said. "As it stands now, the policy is that we only review complaints or allegations if it comes directly to the committee."
Check tomorrow's print edition of The State News for part three of this series, which looks at the Secretary of Academic Governance and other concerns about the committee.