A survey of 500 East Lansing residents presented to City Council on Tuesday night showed Black residents trust East Lansing Police Department officers 45 points less than trust in police in the survey overall. City Manager George Lahanas said that this survey will be a “baseline” to judge whether changes that have recently been put in place will change attitudes toward the police.
“That’s why even though we may intuitively know the answer, we wanted to have data on which to rely upon," Lahanas said.
The survey, done by the company EPIC-MRA, asked East Lansing residents for their opinions regarding the police and other services that the city provides. Black residents were purposely oversampled, at 51 respondents.
This survey occurs in the context of summer protests against police brutality locally and nationally, but not before an ELPD officer was accused of two different instances of excessive force. In May, East Lansing established a study committee for a police oversight commission, tasked with investigating complaints against officers.
The survey showed that 51% of Black residents feel “less safe” than they did a year ago in East Lansing, and 52% said the ELPD doesn’t treat people of color fairly.
This is compared with 82% of all residents who said they either felt no change or feel safer. Even among all residents, who were majority white, there was doubt regarding ELPD’s treatment of people of color, with 22% saying people of color were “not at all” treated fairly.
When asked about officers specifically, more Black respondents (56%) said people of color are not treated fairly by officers.
Lahanas said this data indicates that some of the changes in policing that have been made — the addition of social workers and neighborhood resource specialists to the police force, a police oversight committee and a cultural realignment program for city employees — are working.
“(Chief Kim Johnson), he’s made a push in community to get our officers out into the community, and I think that this data validates or indicates that that is the right direction,” he said.
At the City Council meeting Tuesday, none of the council members were surprised at the data, which showed large differences between how Black residents view police compared to East Lansing residents as a whole.
Council Member Ron Bacon said that East Lansing has long had a perception problem, that “it’s not really a big secret.” He said the results were "surprising to no one," and that the job of City Council was to fix the “brand problem” and make those who felt uncomfortable with ELPD feel welcome again.
Bacon said these changes would take a lot of action on the city’s part and “near-perfect behavior” from the police.
“Your reputation’s your reputation,” Bacon said. “And you don’t get to decide when the person who’s offended has to get over it or assume your new reputation because you’ve changed course. You’re going to have to make the extra effort.”
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