Police reform going nowhere fast in Michigan, despite Patrick Lyoya death
Police reform remains stalled in Michigan, despite increased demands for change following the death of a Black motorist this month by a Grand Rapids police officer.
Activists say the need for legislation is evident after a police officer shot Patrick Lyoya in the back of the head on April 4 after a traffic stop in Grand Rapids. But with an election approaching this fall, some lawmakers say the window of opportunity to enact meaningful changes has closed.
Last year, the Michigan Senate Judiciary Committee took up a 12-bill package that, taken together, would set standards for the use of deadly force by police, create a uniform system for investigating police shootings and limit use of controversial measures like no-knock warrants and chokeholds.
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Many of the changes involve giving the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards, known as MCOLES, more authority to enact and enforce statewide policies for law enforcement agencies.
The legislation was introduced following the 2020 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. The package calls for:
- Implementing statewide guidelines for the independent investigation of deaths caused by police and requiring officers to exhaust all other options before using of force
- Allowing MCOLES to revoke the licenses of officers found to have used excessive force resulting in death or serious injury while on duty
- Banning the use of chokeholds except in cases where there is an “immediate threat” to the life of the officer or another person
- Barring most no-knock warrants
- Requiring officers to intervene when a colleague uses excessive force
- Developing ongoing training for officers regarding de-escalation tactics, implicit bias and behavioral health
- Classifying the act of tampering with or deactivating a body camera as evidence tampering
It’s unclear whether any of those policies would have prevented the April 4 death in Grand Rapids, and experts disagree on whether the unnamed police officer acted illegally or inappropriately during the traffic stop with Lyoya.
The Lansing legislation has encountered resistance from some law enforcement groups, who say the rise of anti-police sentiments makes it harder to recruit good police officers.
The committee hosted several hearings, but so far the package hasn’t advanced to the full Senate.
To become law, the bills would have to be signed by the governor before the current session ends at the end of the year.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Roger Victory, who sponsors one of the key bills in the package, said he’s waiting to see whether more funding to empower MCOLES to enact the proposed changes will be taken up in the budget process.
Victory, R-Hudsonville, called Lyoya’s death a “tragic loss of life,” and he said he plans to follow the case to see if it’s pertinent to ongoing discussions on police policy changes.
“Good legislation and fundamental policy does take time,” he said. “There's always an aspect to get legislation going in a moment of haste, but there's always unintended consequences out there, too.”
Even as bipartisan agreements were struck on other criminal justice issues in Michigan — including expanding eligibility for expungement of criminal records, changes to civil asset forfeiture policy and reducing penalties for low-level offenses — major changes to how agencies should handle instances of excessive force or avoid them entirely have thus far eluded lawmakers.
Previous efforts to ban police chokeholds or mandate police intervene if they witness misconduct by fellow officers have not advanced in the Legislature, and separate bills requiring officers undergo de-escalation and implicit bias training passed both the House and Senate, but neither made it through the full legislative process.
Throughout the country, more than 500 bills changing how policing is legislated have been enacted since 2020, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Michigan Sen. Adam Hollier, D-Detroit, said he’s deeply frustrated by the lack of action, noting that the possibility of an interaction with police escalating to violence or death “is my real life.”
He’s not confident the package will move forward in an election year, despite the bipartisan support.
That’s a shame, he said.
“None of these were radical proposals,” Hollier said. “It was literally the very bare minimum of next steps. And we didn't get any of them done.”
State Police continue to investigate the Grand Rapids incident that began when an unnamed officer pulled over Lyoya shortly after 8 a.m. Video released last week shows he got out of the car, appeared confused when the officer asked for his license and then broke away from the officer.
After a brief chase, the officer tussled with Lyoya, repeatedly telling him to stop resisting and to let go of his Taser. The officer deployed the Taser twice, told Lyoya to let go of the weapon, then shot him in the back of his head as he straddled the motorist.
Activists and Lyoya’s family are calling for charges. Kent County prosecutors will review the case following the police probe, and the officer is on paid leave.
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