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EL City Council discusses police oversight report, expects Tuesday vote

June 18, 2021
<p>The East Lansing Police Department on Park Lane photographed on March 10, 2020.</p>

The East Lansing Police Department on Park Lane photographed on March 10, 2020.

Photo by Matt Zubik | The State News

In a discussion-only meeting on Tuesday, June 15, East Lansing City Council discussed the report and recommendations from the Study Committee on an Independent Police Oversight Commission.

The Study Committee, an 11-person group meant to be representative of the East Lansing community, was assembled to examine police relations with the community.

The committee presented a lengthy report on their recommendations and research process to the council on June 8. This Tuesday, City Council members spoke with members of the Study Committee, giving feedback and asking for clarification on certain items in the report.

“There’s been a couple of suggestions from the public, and even a couple of worries from members of the Study Committee or other folks, that we need to do a full rework of this ordinance,” East Lansing Mayor Aaron Stephens said. “I don’t want to be doing that. I think that we need to respect the work of the Study Committee that put months and months of effort into this process.”

The best course of action, Stephens said, would be to allow the City Attorney to review the document and suggest amendments that City Council will either approve or reject.

The meeting touched on confidentiality in the case of an investigation.

“I think the most important discussions are how we balance people bringing things to us that they would really prefer remain confidential with investigating and a body that’s subject to the Open Meetings Act,” Councilwoman Lisa Babcock said.

The Michigan Open Meetings Act is a 1976 act that requires meetings of certain public bodies to be open to the public. East Lansing City Council aims to create a body that is compliant with the Act, while still protecting the confidentiality of those involved in an investigation, including both police officers and complainants. 

The council also discussed subpoena power in relation to the potential Oversight Commission, Babcock said. If this power is granted, the Commission will be able to request that the council grant a subpoena forcing one involved in an investigation to appear in court. Babcock said that she is in support of the Commission having subpoena power, but that she wants to ensure that requests would only be made when necessary.

“People bring in complaints because they believe they’ve been mistreated, and often that mistreatment is tied to embarrassment, or things that have happened that are embarrassing,” Babcock said. “And that can go both ways, the accusation made against an officer can be embarrassing.”

She said that those that have experienced mistreatment may not make a complaint, or that officers may not face a complaint made against them if the complaint proceedings are part of public discussion and preserved in the public record.

“That’s a tough thing to contemplate,” she said.

Babcock expects the ordinance establishing an Oversight Commission to come to a vote in a City Council meeting on Tuesday, June 22.

“When I get the agenda packet on Friday, I’ll be reviewing it expecting that I’ll have to vote on something on Tuesday,” she said.

Babcock said that she expects the ordinance to pass.

“Creating a police Oversight Commission has been discussed in the community for at least five years, possibly decades,” Babcock said. “While it’s a quick process in the immediate term, it’s something that’s certainly been considered and requested for many years.”

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