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EL City Council votes unanimously to establish police oversight board

July 15, 2021
The front of the East Lansing Police Department. Shot on September 10, 2020.
The front of the East Lansing Police Department. Shot on September 10, 2020. —
Photo by Lauren DeMay | The State News

East Lansing City Council voted to establish a permanent police oversight board in a unanimous vote on Tuesday, July 13.

The vote, which took place during the weekly East Lansing City Council meeting, comes over a month after members of the Study Committee on an Independent Police Oversight Commission presented a report on the proposed establishment of this commission, containing the Study Committee’s recommendations on how the commission should be established.

“I’ve been on this council for a few years now, and this is the most significant piece of policy that I think we are going to pass,” Mayor Aaron Stephens, who resigned in the same meeting, said. “On the day that I made a heck of an announcement, I will say that this was really what I wanted to see out of the finish of my tenure here in the City of East Lansing.”

Stephens thanked the Study Committee — including East Lansing Police Chief Kim Johnson, Deputy Chief Steve Gonzales, City Manager George Lahanas, ELPD Administrative Assistant Diane Shafer, Councilmember Ron Bacon, and Diversity Equity and Inclusion Director Elaine Hardy — for the effort and work they have contributed.

“I’m incredibly proud of the work, thank you to everybody that put in the effort behind this,” Stephens said.

According to the ordinance, the board will be made up of eleven members where "at least two committee members shall be licensed social workers or psychologists professionally engaged in helping people experiencing a crisis, homelessness, mental illness, substance use disorders, or domestic abuse."

Additionally, having an arrest or conviction is not a disqualification for membership on the commission, according to the ordinance.

“People who are vulnerable and have been marginalized and who tend to have significant negative interactions with the police should be amply represented,” the ordinance said.

Members will serve three-year staggered terms.

“If you want to know who you are, ask a kid,” Bacon said. “I think that’s how basic this is, and how important this is, I think even a kid could know that this is good work, that this is important work."

Bacon said that the ordinance should make a difference for both East Lansing law enforcement and the greater East Lansing community in general. 

“I think it’s a beautiful piece of work,” he said, before motioning to approve the ordinance.

Stephens described the voting response of the Council as “overwhelmingly yes.”

“With five in favor, that passes unanimously,” Stephens said. “We have established an Independent Police Oversight Committee in the City of East Lansing.”

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