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East Lansing City Council discusses plans for police oversight commission, diversity relations

May 20, 2020
East Lansing Police Cpt. Chad Connelly briefs the East Lansing City Council about the internal investigation into a complaint of excessive force used against Uwimana Gasito, a black man at the 54B District Court Feb. 27, 2020. This internal investigation found no use of excessive force against Gasito.
East Lansing Police Cpt. Chad Connelly briefs the East Lansing City Council about the internal investigation into a complaint of excessive force used against Uwimana Gasito, a black man at the 54B District Court Feb. 27, 2020. This internal investigation found no use of excessive force against Gasito. —
Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

Members of the East Lansing City Council received public comment in a virtual meeting May 19 regarding the committee to select a police oversight commission in East Lansing.

They also discussed diversity relations in East Lansing, in addition to a resolution that would remove the arrest records of acquitted individuals from public records. This would require the East Lansing 54B District Court to remove "any records pertaining to any legal action, including the arrest, concerning an individual who is acquitted of charges for which he/she was arrested."

The resolution would also require the development and support of legislation that would permanently delete any and all records pertaining to an individual who has all charges dropped in regards to their prior arrest.

Creating a committee to select a police oversight commission

In the aftermath of a concluded investigation by Michigan State Police into two alleged incidents of excessive force within East Lansing Police Department, or ELPD, the committee has been at the epicenter of public comment.

The investigation exonerated the ELPD officer involved. However, the council plans to move toward resolving these incidents.

The meeting featured brief comments from community members offering suggestions to creating the committee as the council proceeds.

The council plans to consider the resolution to select the committee that will create the police oversight commission May 26. The meeting will allow for public comment from community members.

Council members discuss diversity relations in East Lansing

The virtual meeting also featured discussion regarding budget money allocated toward diversity relations in East Lansing, as well as insights from council members regarding recently released footage involved in the state police investigation into ELPD.

Council member Jessy Gregg said the city should consider the idea of hiring an outside agency to facilitate racial equity conversations within the East Lansing community.

Gregg said, if instituted, this agency would be used to improve diversity relations throughout all city departments.

Mayor Ruth Beier said she is interested in Gregg's idea because it doesn't just look at the police, rather, the entire city staff.

"What it says is the entire workings of the city has to address its privilege essentially, because we're essentially a white council, predominantly white staff," Beier said. "And we are having this problem, the same problem we're having in the entire country where people of color in our community don't always feel safe."

Mayor Pro Tem Aaron Stephens commented on the recently released footage pertaining to the state police investigation into ELPD.

The footage was released on May 13 following calls for transparency from community members. The footage was not released prior due to the ongoing investigation.

Stephens said he had many thoughts and concerns after viewing the footage.

"What scared me the most of the interaction was how such a minimal traffic violation, in my eyes, turned into what it did," Stephens said. "The arrest was made for driving while having your license suspended ... and I believe this offense has been over-criminalized across the country."

Stephens said he didn't believe drastic action needs to be taken for this violation. He suggested reforming the arresting procedure involved in these incidents.

In terms of city budget plans, City Manager George Lahanas said the city of East Lansing has currently budgeted $30,000 to be used for diversity training of all city staff, as well as funds for creating the police oversight commission.

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