In a meeting that lasted past 3 a.m., Ann Arbor City Council unanimously passed Mayor Christopher Taylor’s proposal to establish the Independent Community Police Oversight Commission at Monday night’s Council meeting.
The proposal comes after the council voted down a citizen-led oversight board proposal on Oct. 1, citing legal concerns in the city charter and Ann Arbor Police Department’s collective bargaining agreement regarding complaints. The citizen task force met several times over the summer after its establishment was finalized in March. Their proposal would have granted the oversight commission subpoena power for records and officer testimony as well as the ability to investigate complaints against the AAPD independently of the department.
The Independent Community Police Oversight Commission, proposed by Taylor, gives the mayor the power to appoint 11 commission members and would be a part of city government. The rejected citizen-led task force wanted to create an 11-member body with members appointed by the Human Rights Commission, subject to approval by the council.
Community concerns about police oversight have increased following issues of police brutality across the city, including the murder of Aura Rosser in 2014 and arrest of high schooler Ciaeem Slaton at the Blake Transit Center in 2017.
Ann Arbor resident Renee Roederer asked the council to consider adding a youth member to the commission.
“It is so rare for us, their elders, to actually hand over power, leadership and decision-making ability,” Roederer said. “That seems to be magnified when young people come from marginalized identities and experiences of disenfranchisement … our city and our nation need to learn from our youth and ultimately be formed by their leadership.”
City Council later amended the proposal to allow councilmembers to appoint a youth liaison to the commission. The liaison must be an appointed member of the “Youth Council,” which the Commission will create and oversee. The Youth Council will be “composed of youths residing in Washtenaw County between the ages of 16 and 21.” It is unclear if this includes temporary University students.
Ann Arbor resident Susan Priller, who identified herself as a legal secretary at Hooper Hathaway, where Taylor practices law, hoped city officials would begin to aggressively work on the issue.
“I would prefer to think that my city officials were merely ignorant of the harms of aggressive policing rather than they were engaging in a wanton, egregious disregard of what this community has clearly asked for,” Priller said. “I would hope that they exit their bubble of white privilege and that they would stop congratulating themselves on how liberal they are and engage in the hard work of anti-racism.”
Priller then handed signed copies of the book “The End of Policing” by Alex Vitale, sociology professor at Brooklyn College, to Taylor and City Administrator Howard Lazarus.
The Police Officers Association of Michigan addressed a letter to Taylor dated Sept. 27 requesting the task force’s proposal not be passed.
“The preamble of the task force proposed ordinance is a deplorable rant filled with bias and prejudice against law enforcement,” the letter signed by General Counsel Frank Guido read. “To state that the City of Ann Arbor ‘acknowledges that law enforcement, across the nation, have historically defended and enforced racism and segregation’ is nothing less than a direct attack on Ann Arbor police officers.”
The letter also stated the ordinance lacks moral justification and legal grounds.
Much of the discussion of the proposal centered around whether complainants should be able to file their complaints about the AAPD anonymously. City Councilmember Sumi Kailasapathy, D-Ward 1, served as a non-voting member of the task force. She wanted the option for anonymity to protect residents from potential revictimization, which was included in the passed proposal.
“You should always have an option of anonymity,” Kailasapathy said. “We keep saying we don’t want this commission to fail, so if you don’t want it to fail, you can’t expect people to come and do it according to our terms which come from a vantage point of privilege. The ultimate (viewpoint) of this is going to be people who are afraid that they could be re-victimized as a result of this.”
City Councilmember Graydon Krapohl, D-Ward 4, also served as a non-voting member of the task force but was not present at Monday’s meeting.
Another issue raised was whether AAPD should be informed of or play a role in investigating complaints. The task force’s proposal would have allowed the commission to investigate complaints without informing AAPD. Taylor believes engagement with police is necessary to create change.
“I do view engagement with the police about police practices as a necessary part of the commission learning about the practice and policy and an important part of that communication,” Taylor said.
Kailasapathy said the task force’s ordinance is crucial to a democratic checks and balances system.
“I think part of having the ordinance is to make it clear … good people will always do things but we cannot be at the mercy of good things,” Kailasapathy said. “That’s why democracy needs institutions with checks and balances. It’s built into the system.”
The council also debated how complaints should be handled on the basis of whether they are criminal or disciplinary. Disciplinary complaints are complaints of behaviors that would not violate the law, but violate the policies and procedures of the AAPD. The citizen task force would have investigated complaints independently.
City Attorney Stephen Postema said all complaints should be forwarded to AAPD, regardless of the type of complaint.
Ann Arbor resident Richard Friedman, co-chair of the citizen-led task force and a professor at the University of Michigan Law School, said the commission should investigate matters even if a resident does not formally come forward with a complaint.
“I think this is something that the council can take a shot at and worse comes to worst, you get a ruling in a particular case that can’t happen and you go from there,” Friedman said.
AAPD and city employees are not eligible for membership on the commission in either proposal, but the task force's proposal extended the restriction to any former employees of or “regular contractors” of the city or any police department.