Michigan Senate: Train police on bias, de-escalation

Police lead protesters in a march after a rally in Detroit, Wednesday, June 3, 2020, over the death of George Floyd, an African American man who died on May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into his neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleading for air. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

LANSING (AP) — The Michigan Senate unanimously approved a bill Thursday that would require police to be trained on implicit bias and de-escalation techniques to minimize the use of force, a move made more than a week after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The legislation would also require, starting in 2022, that officers complete annual continuing education. Michigan is among six states without such a requirement, according to a 2017 report.

“Every parent with a black or brown child in America faces … the constant fear and anxiety that their children will be a victim of the police that we hire to protect and serve. We must change this,” the bill’s sponsor, Democratic Sen. Jeff Irwin of Ann Arbor, said while choking up.

The measure, which was passed just a week after its introduction in the Republican-led chamber, was sent to the House for further consideration.

It is supported by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who for the first time on Thursday joined a demonstration against police abuses — participating in a “unity march” in Highland Park.

“This is a time for solidarity and for allies to listen, to learn and for every one of us to take action — not just brown and black Michiganders,” she told participants.

“We can’t in one day change someone’s subconscious or their deeply held unconscious biases. But if we can change what goes through an officer’s mind when they encounter one of our community members who doesn’t look like them, we could change the outcome,” said Sen. Stephanie Chang, a Detroit Democrat who was tearful while advocating for the legislation.

The bill would task the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards — a state agency that licenses law enforcement officers — with establishing minimum standards for training in de-escalation techniques, implicit bias, procedural justice and mental health resources available for police. Law enforcement agencies would be required to adopt a written policy saying its officers have an affirmative duty to use de-escalation techniques whenever possible.

Training would include nonlethal methods of applying force, verbal and physical tactics that minimize the need for the use of force, and techniques to recognize people with mental disabilities.

MCOLES disperses court fine revenue to law enforcement agencies for training.

Robert Stevenson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, said the funding has declined over the years.

Departments do tend to conduct continuing education as their budgets allow, he said.

Police chiefs are “strongly in favor of officer training,” he said. “However, the funding must be provided and the staffing and resources of the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards needs to be restored.”