Michigan lawmakers fast-track police reform but some question necessity

Bills to ban chokeholds, require more training and ensure officers step in over excessive force have been introduced in recent weeks. (Photo by Jack Cronkhite / Shutterstock)

Michigan lawmakers are introducing legislation aimed at preventing police brutality and increasing sanctions for misconduct.

The legislation comes nearly three weeks after the death of George Floyd, who was killed by a since-fired police officer in Minneapolis. Protests across Michigan and the nation have sprung up in the wake of his death, demanding an end to racial injustice and police brutality.

A bill introduced Thursday by Sen. Ruth Johnson, R-Holly, which is co-sponsored by eight lawmakers of both parties, would require police officers who see another officer using excessive force to intervene. The law enforcement agency would also be required to punish officers who fail to intervene.

The bill introduced by Sen. Ruth Johnson, R-Holly, which is co-sponsored by eight lawmakers of both parties, would require police officers who see another officer using excessive force to intervene.

A former police officer killed Floyd by kneeling on his neck for more than eight minutes during an arrest. Three other officers stood by and did not intervene. All four were fired shortly after a video of Floyd’s death circulated on social media. 

“I was so deeply disturbed not only by the actions of the officer who took Mr. Floyd’s life, but also by the inaction of other officers who witnessed what was happening and failed to stop it,” Johnson said in a statement Thursday.

Sen. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, also introduced a bill Thursday that would bar law enforcement officials from applying pressure to a person’s throat or windpipe. 

“It’s a good idea to have it out there that says ‘don’t be using that kind of stuff ever again,’” Lucido said. “It literally stunned us all to see the video [of Floyd’s killing.] I think the video explains what’s out of control.”

The legislation is preceded by a bill from Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, that’s being fast-tracked through the Legislature and would require de-escalation, anti-bias and mental health training for officers, and a bill from Rep. Ronnie Peterson, D-Ypsilanti, which would require the Attorney General’s office to collect and report data on training programs.

During a House committee hearing Thursday, Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Wayland, questioned the vague language of Irwin’s bill, requiring 24 hours of training “in subjects related to law enforcement” beginning in 2023. 

“That seems very, very broad,” Johnson said. 

Irwin said the language was intended to allow a state commission that creates training standards to “make certain decisions about what’s appropriate and to modify those as time goes on.”

Some lawmakers also raised concerns that training requirements would constitute an unfunded mandate and hit rural areas and small departments hard. The bill was updated to require officers complete training hours only if they have funding. 

Robert Stevenson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, argued the bills aren’t unnecessary — chokeholds and other methods of blocking people’s windpipes aren’t authorized techniques, it’s already considered misfeasance not to intervene or report illegal activity by other officers, and there already exists a commission that sets training standards, he said. 

“We don’t need legislation to tell us to do what we already do,” Stevenson said. 

“I think a lot of these calls for change are based on the horrendous actions of the officers in Minnesota and it’s not applicable to what’s occurring here in Michigan. They’re painting all police officers with a broad brush that they’re doing a bad job, which is not true.”

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Thu, 06/11/2020 - 6:33pm

"Robert Stevenson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, argued the bills aren’t unnecessary" Do you mean necessary?

Agnosticrat 2.0
Fri, 06/12/2020 - 6:16am

Sounds like Mr. Stevenson doesn’t like some cops being accused of a crime they didn’t personally commit just because they “fit the profile”.

Le Roy G. Barnett
Fri, 06/12/2020 - 8:57am

The Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police says some prohibitory legislation is not needed because the banned practices do not exist. If my memory serves me correctly, decades ago the same organization testified before a Michigan legislative committee saying a bill banning ticket quotas was not necessary because quotas do not exist. Of course they don't. They're now called "officer evaluation criteria" or are given some other euphemistic label. If something does not exist in police work, then the Chiefs of Police should care less about a law barring its use because the proposed statute does not affect them in any way.

jan d
Fri, 06/12/2020 - 9:01am

Let's not have knee-jerk reaction legislation that has to be untangled later. Most likely we have laws covering the issues already.

Agnosticrat 2.0
Sun, 06/14/2020 - 2:30pm

Do we still want to avoid fixing the problem of systemic racial bias?
The truth is there may be an ineffective law that exists.
It needs to be replaced.
Let us do it right now.
Black Lives Matter!

Fri, 06/12/2020 - 11:00am

The police for sure must be reigned in,,far too many instances of abuse, physical or abuse of power. The pendulum must swing back and major changes made,,such as all complaints must be made public!!! No immunity to police or those who hire them,,cameras on all police! Also police to never be used as revenue enhancers!

John Q. Public
Sat, 06/13/2020 - 12:54am

I'll bet a good deal of the problems could be resolved just by getting rid of military preference in hiring and banning the use of military gear in policing. Do they really think wearing camo makes them more effective?

E. Carrington
Sat, 06/13/2020 - 9:06am

The call for more of the police budget to go to social services makes the most sense. The choke hold that killed Mr. Floyd was illegal. Rules are often broken by police. They are too militarized and act “above the law”. They are supposed to “Protect and Serve”, but the norm is closer to “Pick Up and Punish”. Michigan’s legislature has consistently blocked more funding for social and public health services creating a situation where the social and health problems of citizens are offloaded to police and teachers. A weak social safety net is not good for our or any community. Making more rules for police to violate indiscriminately or wiggle out of because of hairs split is not the answer.

Sat, 06/13/2020 - 11:18am

Mandatory drug testing for steroids and other illegal substances whenever an officer kills or injures a suspect has to be part of any reform legislation. A lot of the excessive violence in policing is due to cops who are juicing and can't control their anger as a result. There is a big drug problem in law enforcement that needs to be dealt with very strictly. It is not that these are simply illegal substances but that they deeply impact the behavior and judgement of those who use them.

Chuck Jordan
Sun, 06/14/2020 - 9:55am

The problem is not so much bad police (most are decent and well-meaning). The problem is the court system that continues to let the few violent policemen off time after time. "Liberty and justice for all" - what a good idea.