The Time is Now for Transparency and Accountability for the Police
by Senator Erika Geiss (D - Taylor)
Committees: Transportation & Infrastructure (Minority Vice Chair), Insurance & Banking (Minority Vice Chair), Education & Career Readiness, Economic & Small Business Development
For Black and Brown America, the criminal justice system has always been broken. The senseless murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the events surrounding them over the past 16 months, have only heightened the stark difference in how people view and define “justice.” These two tragedies have redefined the national narrative, and rightfully so, as they were both heartbreaking and avoidable, and brought police accountability to the forefront of discussions nationwide.
For years, Democrats have been working to make improvements to policing, but so often these opportunities have been undermined by a structure that stymies change and perpetuates institutionalized racism and systemic discrimination. During this term, though, we have an incredible opportunity to come together over these tragedies and work in a bipartisan way to collectively bend the moral arc of the universe toward justice.
In late May, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a 12-bill package to make improvements to policing — specifically regarding policing procedures, accountability and transparency. These measures are a part of a larger, multifaceted plan to restore public trust in police departments and police procedures.
It’s clear what we need to do to improve policing procedures across Michigan: We must reduce the potential for high-intensity police encounters, ensuring the safety of both police officers and the people they swore to protect and serve. Under Senate Bill 481, officers would be required to update their Use of Force policies to include a use of force continuum, verbal warning, and exhaustion of alternatives before using deadly force. In the case of an officer-involved death, each agency would be required to have a publicly available policy in place for independent investigations into these situations to ensure safety and that the proper procedures are followed.
To shore up additional safety for our communities, we also need to improve upon how police are allowed to enforce the law. “No-knock” warrants need to be eliminated, and we need a better definition of the alternative to a “knock and enter” warrant — which I sponsored. We must also eliminate the use of chokeholds except in the most charged situations when a police officer’s life is in clear and imminent danger.
For too long, policing institutions have been protected from true accountability measures. This 12-bill package aims to address this, as well as the need for police to rebuild trust among the people they serve. To that end, Senate Bill 480 would require police officers intervene when another officer uses excessive force. This would hold even more importance for another bill, Senate Bill 484, to make it a misdemeanor for law enforcement officers to tamper with body cameras or intentionally turn off cameras for the sake of interfering with an investigation.
When it comes to public safety, we cannot have “bad apples” recycled in the system and rehired in another jurisdiction after they are separated and released from their former policing job. Senate Bill 474 addresses this practice by requiring Use of Force violations be included in separation records. This would allow hiring police departments to have thorough record of service when reviewing applications for new officers.
Additionally, there is the need to ensure that officers of any rank and experience level remain properly trained and educated on the changing ways of modern policing in America. Senate Bill 482 would require officers to undergo new training standards regarding de-escalation, implicit bias, and behavioral health, along with required continuing education.
After years of senseless killings, it’s past time to harness the momentum of change so we can ensure such tragedy never happens again. With the help of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, now is our time to make the changes the people of Michigan need.
With the support of the Michigan Association for Justice and the American Association for Justice for our bipartisan legislation, we have the power and incredible opportunity to make policing safer in our communities and save lives. Let’s do it.