It has been more than three years since the Ann Arbor Police Department killed Aura Rosser, a Black woman, mother of three children, and an Ann Arbor resident. In that time, shamefully little has been done to address the conditions that led to her death, and the community feels no safer than it did when Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri. Ann Arbor police participated in a forum aimed at building trust, to make sure something like that wouldn’t happen here. Three weeks later, something like that did happen. Something like that can happen again, and will, if we don’t do something to address the situation.
We should have a civillian oversight committee, with the power to investigate the police, and to make disciplinary decisions. After more than three years, we are finally beginning the process of desiging the civillian oversight committee. It will be important to make sure that the committee that is eventually created has the powers that it needs. I support Transforming Justice Washtenaw’s position that “an effective police review board must be representative, independent, transparent, and adequately funded”.
It is inherently dangerous to bring fully-armed people into a situation. Police have the power to seriously disrupt people’s lives, and so people will react with fear. I think we should have different types of responses for different types of situations. We could have conflict resolution mediators, social workers, unarmed security guards, or people with other specialties. There are some situations where people are in danger of physical harm, and it may be appropriate to bring out an armed response to those situations, but there are many other situations where it would be safer to have a different response.
For example, we should have trained mental health workers who can respond to calls in which people are having mental health crises instead of police. This is a large chunk of the calls that the police respond to. People with mental health problems are not criminals. They need help, not punishment. At the Police Task Force meeting on May 17, 2018, it was mentioned that the police have begun receiving additional training in responding to mental health crises. But in my opinion, that is not enough. Mental health care and policing are two different skilled professions. A couple of classes here and there will not turn a police officer into a mental health worker. Having a mental health crisis should not generate an arrest record. If we hired mental health care workers instead of more police, that would free up the police officers to deal with crimes. Everybody would be safer.
Not all the blame belongs to the police. Part of the problem, too, is white people who call the police because they are afraid when they see Black people in public. Several people at the Police Task Force meeting on May 31 told stories of being stopped by police when they were at their own homes, because some white person saw Black people and found that inherently suspicious.
At the meeting, someone proposed a mitigation that I like. Neighborhood associations and neighborhood watch groups are organizations who have an official relationship with the city government. The city government could require these groups to do anti-bias training.
Calling the police should not be a dangerous thing to do. But while it is, we should make sure that white people are aware of the impact they can have on people’s lives when they make the calls.
Transforming Justice Washtenaw elaborates on their statement of what a police review board requires:
… an effective police review board must be representative, independent, transparent, and adequately funded. For example:
Representation means: The community police commission must include representation from marginalized community groups including: people of color; people who have been incarcerated; and people who work in the following fields: mediation/conflict resolution, mental health, housing, homelessness, anti-racism, and transformative justice.
Independence means: The community police commission members must not include the Deputy Chief or Assistant City Attorney (although they may serve as advisors). The commission must select its own chair without City Council involvement. The commission should not include current and former employees of AAPD. The commission must have access to police witnesses and documents through legal mandate or subpoena power, which is considered a best practice by the ACLU. When unsatisfied with an internal AAPD investigation, the commission must have the power to gather more information, initiate additional investigation, and/or recommend further investigation. The Police Chief must review and respond in detail to commission recommendations.
TJW recognizes that in order to design an independent review board, the Task Force must itself enjoy a degree of independence. What is vitally important is that your recommendation address the needs of residents most targeted by policing. While the Task Force will not address all the deeply entrenched issues of racism and white supremacy in Ann Arbor, you can take a major step toward shifting policy and resources. Community oversight of AAPD can be one part of a shift towards justice, equity, and accountability.
Transforming Justice Washtenaw thanks you for your service. We will show up in solidarity with you as you prepare your detailed proposal of a community policing commission that is representative, independent, transparent and adequately funded; we will accept no less from our city.