Michigan Gov. Whitmer wants state ban on police chokeholds, other reforms

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced that she supports a raft of police reforms on Monday, the same day demonstrators protested police brutality at the Michigan Capitol.

LANSING – Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday unveiled a four-part plan to reform policing across the state, including proposals to ban chokehold use by officers and require them to intervene if they see a colleague abusing authority.

The latest plan from Whitmer, which she said was developed with community leaders and law enforcement groups, comes amid protests over police brutality and racial injustice following the deaths of George Floyd in Minnesota, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky and others before them. 

Whitmer, who marched with demonstrators this month and had already proposed some reforms. She announced her new legislative initiatives by press release as hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the Michigan Capitol for a Black Lives Matter rally.

Among other things, the first-term Democrat said she wants lawmakers to send her a bill to classify “false, racially-motivated 911 calls” as hate crimes, require in-service training for police officers to maintain licensure and direct the state health department to recommend best practices for responding to persons with mental illness. 

Among other things, the first-term Democrat said she wants lawmakers to send her a bill to classify “false, racially-motivated 911 calls” as hate crimes, require in-service training for police officers to maintain licensure and direct the state health department to recommend best practices for responding to persons with mental illness. 

Whitmer said she would support legislation to require an independent investigation of all police shootings or use of force that result in the death of an unarmed civilian.  

The governor also said her administration will work with law enforcement leaders to incentivize local hires, require departments to retain disciplinary records even if officers transfer and invest in programming that connects police and communities. 

“All Michiganders, no matter their community or the color of their skin, deserve equal treatment under the law,” Whitmer said in a statement. 

“This proposal will help us ensure that law enforcement officials treat all Michiganders with humanity and respect, and will help us keep our communities safe. I will continue working with leaders in law enforcement to make public safety more just and equitable in Michigan.” 

The proposed chokehold ban would also prohibit windpipe blockage by police and appears to be a direct response to the death of Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer put his knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes. 

Many of Whitmer's proposals mirror legislation already introduced in Lansing, including a chokehold ban sponsored by Sen. Pete Lucido, R-Shelby Township. 

Robert Stevenson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, has questioned the need for some of the proposed reforms. 

Chokeholds are already prohibited under a ruling from the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Michigan, he said. The court, in a 2017 opinion, held that officers can be prosecuted for using chokeholds as a form of deadly force.

"You don't need a law to outlaw what the court's have already prohibited,” Stevenson said. 

Likewise, Michigan police officers who fail to intervene when colleagues abuse their authority can already be prosecuted for malfeasance or aiding and abetting a crime, according to Stevenson. He said his association was not invited to reform discussions with the Whitmer administration.

"We do recognize the duty to intervene as part of our accreditation process, and there are already laws on the books that officers could be charged if they don't intervene,” he said.

Some Michigan police departments allow the use of chokeholds, but only if superiors had authorized the use of deadly force. In 2017, Kalamazoo police sanctioned an officer after body camera footage caught him using a choke hold on an unarmed Black man, which reportedly violated the department's force-of-use police. 

The Democratic-led U.S. House last week approved legislation that would ban chokeholds by police across the country and classify them as a civil rights violation. U.S. Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan was one of three Republicans who voted for the measure, which faces an uncertain future in the GOP-led U.S. Senate. 

Many of the country's largest police departments already have instituted bans on chokeholds, but those policies have proven "largely ineffective" and been subject to "lax enforcement," according to a recent review by NPR.

But the state-level proposals Whitmer is backing “will continue to put Michigan ahead of the nation in setting standards for professional police conduct that leads to trust between police officers and the communities they serve,” Lt. Mark Young, president of the Detroit Police Lieutenants and Sergeants Association and vice president of the National Association of Police Organizations, said in a statement. 

“Good police officers accept accountability as they risk their lives everyday to protect Michigan's citizens."

The Michigan Senate this month approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, that would require police officers to complete training on de-escalation techniques, implicit bias, procedural justice and mental health resources. 

Legislation sponsored by Sen. Ruth Johnson, R-Holly, would require law enforcement agencies to punish officers who fail to intervene when a colleague breaks the law. 

Many protesters, including some of those gathered at the Michigan Capitol on Monday, have called for more aggressive changes, including budget amendments to “defund the police” and redirect resources towards intervention and mental health resources. 

Michigan GOP-led state House this month adopted a resolution discouraging local governments from defunding or abolishing police departments. More than 20 Democrats joined majority Republicans in voting for the resolution.

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Mon, 06/29/2020 - 4:15pm

Pretty sure any city council and/or mayor could ban chokeholds if they wanted to.

Tue, 06/30/2020 - 4:01am

Is that still an issue? Good God, that should have been banned weeks ago. WTF

Tue, 06/30/2020 - 9:40am

Cops don't follow the rules. Full stop. Chokeholds were banned by NYPD in 1993, because that did nothing to stop the cop who killed Eric Garner in 2014. These reforms are hollow and ineffective, and we know this because of the numerous times the police have been "reformed" without any appreciable change. If you actually want to reduce crime and police brutality, cut their funding, and re-allocate it to community services, mental health, and education.

Kevin Grand
Tue, 06/30/2020 - 12:26pm

"Among other things, the first-term Democrat said she wants lawmakers to send her a bill to classify “false, racially-motivated 911 calls” as hate crimes..."

Hey, that is a great way to give legal cover to the "peaceful protesters" who get off on threatening families and destroying landmarks around America.

Math Sux
Tue, 06/30/2020 - 1:33pm

All these grand ideas...and comments, from people who have never "walked a beat" in their lives.