The following was included in my June 14, 2020 Newsletter
Since our last meeting, many people have reached out to Council with concerns about racial injustice, abuse of power, and accountability in our law enforcement institutions. In the last two weeks, CM Jack Eaton and I have had a lot of conversations with residents and advocates, exchanging ideas and listening to perspectives. We have also been in conversation with our Police Chief and members of the Independent Community Police Oversight Commission (ICPOC) about all the issues that have been brought to our attention.
I have attempted to respond to all emails I have received on the topic of our Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). For those who have not already heard: this agreement has been reviewed by our ICPOC and other community advocates – their concerns are being relayed to the legal staff who negotiate that contract. The CBA will return to a City Council agenda no sooner than July.
Much of what I have seen and heard this week boils down to this: Ann Arbor wants to review police practice (how it happens, what we are funding) and identify potential bias. Our laws should be enforced in a way that is just, compassionate, and supportive of our community — all this must happen with keen awareness of disparate impacts by race. To do that, we need a deeper understanding of where and how police intervene. With that information, we can identify patterns and contemplate solutions that would reduce the need for police intervention. In 2018, Ann Arbor established, organized, and funded a group of citizen volunteers to raise these very issues and bring informed perspective to City Council: the Independent Community Police Oversight Commission (ICPOC).
On the agenda this week, I am sponsoring a resolution that would significantly increase our ICPOC’s direct access to information via the database (LEIN) where police records are kept. Members of ICPOC want to make use of this database and have been denied access by the state agencies that regulate it. Current state policy grants LEIN access to only those organizations that qualify as law enforcement agencies; this policy effectively excludes ICPOC. Our ICPOC can only access these records indirectly, after they have been heavily redacted internally by city staff. Over time and by specific rule changes, the state has stretched the definition of “law enforcement agency” to include people outside of traditional police departments – my resolution asks that the state do the same for oversight commissions like ours. I believe that the work of ICPOC – in support of review, oversight, and accountability – is very much a matter of law enforcement and they need access to LEIN.
The work of creating independent police oversight started years before I was elected. The City recognized the value of community review of our police practices starting in 2016, when the Human Rights Commission (HRC) presented a report to City Council asking for community oversight of our police department. Council Liaisons to the HRC, CM Sumi Kailasapathy and CM Graydon Krapohl, as well as CM Chuck Warpehoski and CM Jack Eaton sponsored the HRC report, which you can find here:
In 2017, Council approved a contract with a consultant for additional expertise regarding police oversight, which led to the establishment of a task force. In the summer of 2018, a racially diverse task force (including lawyers, educators, social workers, community leaders, and youth representatives) worked for hundreds of hours over several months collecting input from community members and debating various elements of independent community police oversight. I attended several of their meetings as an observer. The result of their work was a draft ordinance that contemplated all aspects of how a police oversight commission could function.
The ordinance drafted by that task force was on the City Council agenda on October 1, 2018, sponsored by former CM Sumi Kailasapathy, CM Jack Eaton, and CM Anne Bannister. It failed to get majority support. The work of the task force was ultimately displaced by another document, drafted by Mayor Christopher Taylor. The version introduced by Mayor Taylor is considered by many to be a weaker, watered-down version of the task force proposal. The task force ordinance that was rejected by Council can be found here:
At that meeting on October 1, 2018, I made a public comment (as an audience member) to City Council urging them to approve the task force ordinance and validate that work. I believe that City Council did not empower our commission as much as it could have during the process of adopting an oversight ordinance. Significantly, the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) was referenced as an obstacle to some elements of oversight. Our ICPOC has now existed for over a year and can give us meaningful feedback about the nature of their work, how we can empower them. I look forward to suggestions from ICPOC about how we might amend our ordinance to make it stronger.
You can find the current ICPOC ordinance here:
Compliance With Our Ordinance
On this week’s agenda, we have a resolution (DC-16) that asks our ICPOC to evaluate and specifically report on every aspect of our policing department. By ordinance, ICPOC already has broad authority to assess and review our policing policies as well as specific incidents and complaints. The plan in DC-16 asks that ICPOC do all of the review they currently do, plus review City budget, and provide updates to Council every three months. In DC-16, ICPOC is also asked to create what looks to be a very large task force of many more “stakeholders” to consider all of these issues, with a deadline for final report and recommendations 18 months from now.
Typically, an idea of the size and scale of DC-16 – adding so much workload to a commission and adding the involvement of many more people – would be the subject of significant discussion among the whole membership of that commission. By ordinance, ICPOC defines its own work plan and describes its own funding requests to the City Administrator, but this plan reverses that process.
Requests to postpone this agenda item – so that all members of ICPOC could discuss it at their next meeting this coming Tuesday – were denied by the sponsors.
What I see in this agenda item: a process that intentionally excludes the people at the center of our oversight ordinance, and a plan that marginalizes the people meant to be empowered by our oversight ordinance (“the City’s diverse population – especially those who tend to have significant negative interactions with the police”) by diluting them in a crowd of other “stakeholders” and staff. I am also concerned that vague goals and a long timeline (18 months) are a way of kicking the can down the road. This agenda item should have been sent to ICPOC first to get feedback and I hope that we do exactly that on Monday night. I look forward to hearing from ICPOC about what they see as next steps.
The history of our ICPOC ordinance is very important context for the current conversation around our police, accountability, and community voice in assessing our law enforcement needs and practices. Words don’t mean anything if our actions don’t back up what we say. We created a forum for members of our community to voice concerns about policing and now it’s time to listen. I am proud to have helped hire our current Police Chief Michael Cox, who has a deep and personal understanding of what’s at stake.
For those who do not know: our current Police Chief Michael Cox has the unique past experience of being a police officer of color who was previously targeted (and severely beaten) by white colleagues when he was working undercover and racially profiled by law enforcement in Boston. After that incident, Chief Cox continued to work for the same police department – for years, in internal affairs – because he felt a responsibility to help reform it from the inside. We are lucky to have an extremely (and uniquely) qualified police Chief during this historic moment. I know how strongly Chief Cox is committed to high standards and accountability to residents. With the leadership that we have, reform and improved policies constantly happen internally but they will also happen as a result of close engagement with community members. Police Chief Cox is a very important reason for my own optimism moving forward. You can find more information about Chief Cox’s leadership on these issues here: