East Lansing City Council members pressed East Lansing Police Chief Kim Johnson on the progress of the proposed realignment of East Lansing’s police department in a City Council meeting on May 18.
City Manager George Lahanas presented a plan of realignment of the ELPD during a City Council meeting in July 2020. The document suggested changes in several areas, including staffing and adding alternative positions like social workers. The meeting touched on the progress made in these areas, as well as the shortcomings in others.
Lahanas discussed how the city followed through with its plan to reduce the number of officers as well as its hiring and training of these alternative positions.
“Here we sit with about four or five months behind us of a new operation in terms of our realignment, in terms of non-enforcement positions, and also a little bit of a smaller department in terms of officers,” he said.
Lahanas said that the police force was reduced through natural attrition, meaning officers were not laid off. Natural attrition typically refers to the reduction of a workforce due to employees being relocated, or employees resigning and not being replaced.
Mayor Pro Tem Jessy Gregg brought up the inclusion of tear gas in the ELPD’s equipment.
“I feel like tear gas is kind of coming out on the inhumane side of enforcement tactics and I'm wondering if we could address whether or not that is how our department should be responding, and maybe that’s not something we should keep on hand,” she said.
Johnson defended the use of tear gas. He said that tear gas is used in violent riot situations during which people are hurt by thrown objects, windows and other parts of the property are being destroyed, and the crowds responsible will not disperse. He described it as a last resort tactic.
Mayor Aaron Stephens said that there may be a possible alternative, but that he is unsure of its effectiveness. He suggested the possibility of regulations that require the signing off of a city manager or mayor before tear gas is used.
“I generally am under the opinion that the use of tear gas shouldn’t be acceptable,” Stephens said.
Council Member Lisa Babcock asked Chief Johnson if there had been violations of policy in regards to the use of officer’s body cameras, situations in which a body cam was obscured, or not turned on when it should have been.
“We had a couple body cameras that were turned on but they were actually covered up with raincoats and things like that,” Johnson said.
Mayor Stephens responded that incidents like this are unacceptable.
“If we’re in a position next year where we have any situations where ‘Oh, there was a raincoat over,' or 'Oh, the button didn’t work or the battery wasn’t charged’ I don’t want to hear it,” he said. “I want a zero-incident the next time we have this conversation.”
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