Seventy Ann Arbor residents called for increased accountability and transparency from the Ann Arbor Police Department at the Ann Arbor Human Rights Commission Wednesday. This comes after several local incidents of police brutality, and institutional responses many residents view as insufficient.
Because of the unprecedented number of residents in attendance, a member of the fire department stopped by on an anonymous tip to move the HRC to the City Council Workroom. Participants carried signs with slogans such as “Civilian Police Review Now!” and “No false solutions.”
Difficulties with relations between the AAPD and the Ann Arbor community erupted in 2014 when an AAPD officer shot and killed 40-year-old Aura Rosser, a Black woman, after the officer claimed Rosser had moved towards him with a knife.
Rosser’s death was not the only example of the AAPD’s questionable use of force. Since Rosser's death, numerous incidents such as the violent arrest of Ciaeem Slaton at the Blake Transit Center, the rough handling of University of Michigan student Dyshon Toxey and alleged mistreatment of several Black students during tailgates have led residents to question whether these are issues of race and how the AAPD can be held accountable for their actions.
Residents have reacted to the tenuous relationship between the police and citizens through various protests and initiatives calling for a new way of policing the AAPD. While the Ann Arbor City Council initially responded to the uproar in early 2017 by approving a $200,000 contract with a consulting firm, Hillard Heintze LLC, many residents considered the unsatisfying, and even counteractive.
Long-time Ann Arbor resident Shirley Beckley expressed frustration with the long-standing impasse in relations with AAPD.
“This is not a problem we should still be struggling with,” she said. “We should not still be struggling with issues from the 1970s.”
She addressed City Administrator Howard Lazarus later in the meeting.
“I don’t trust you,” she stated. “I don’t trust the police. No one has apologized for killing Aura Rosser. Not yet. But you ask us to trust you. Trust is earned.”
Transforming Justice Washtenaw, a group that advocates for restorative alternatives to policing and incarceration, opened the HRC meeting with members Lori Saginaw and Julie Quiroz reading a statement they sent to the mayor, City Council, city administrator and HRC prior to the meeting. The statement requested the formation of a Civilian Police Review Board instead of the "Co-Produced Policing Committee” the city is pursuing.
“We call on the Ann Arbor City Council to take immediate steps directing the city administrator to put in place a Civilian Police Review Board that is independent, transparent, representative and adequately funded, based on the specific features outlined below. This CPRB should be in place no later than January 2019,” Saginaw said.
Several HRC members, including Dwight Wilson, shared a sense of urgency.
“We need to stop dancing around and just do this. We have all kinds of people telling us to do it, and even if we didn’t, common sense should tell us that we need to protect the citizens,” Wilson said.
The HRC formally proposed a CPRB a year after Rosser's death in 2015, and again with a unanimous statement in July 2016. AAPD chief Jim Baird, on the other hand, blasted the idea in the summer of 2016, arguing implementing oversight before a third-party review would be too hasty.
“Because the commission’s report blends the national discussion with the Rosser incident, I have concern that there may be an appetite to address national issues and concerns with local policy,” Baird wrote in a memo. “To presume that the Ann Arbor Police Department’s practices are not ‘positive’ and that a review board is the best way to ‘ensure future adherence’ absent any supporting reference is ill advised…(civilian oversight) becomes a mechanism for people who are sometimes disenchanted with police departments to become more disenchanted, because all they see is the problem.”
Throughout the meeting residents emphasized the importance of a review board comprised of residents rather than the Hillard Heinze proposed Co-Produced Policing, which would include commissioners, policemen and council members.
Similarly, residents expressed doubt regarding the effectivity of a CPPC. The CPPC cannot conduct investigations and can only review from outside investigations via the AAPD’s Office of Internal Affairs, working as a third-party liaison between the public and the police. The residents argued a Civilian Police Review Board would take a more direct approach.
Saginaw emphasized amid applause they were prepared to take action and get involved.
“We are ready,” Saginaw said. “Give us a date. We want to help.”
Transforming Justice Washtenaw stated the CPRB would exclude current and former employees of the AAPD, unlike the CPPC. Furthermore, the CPRB would be a place of transparency, where citizens, City Council and the AAPD would be regularly informed on complaints and corresponding action taken to alleviate community relations. Finally, Transforming Justice Washtenaw proposes that the CPRB would be made up of nine members of various marginalized people groups.
Lazarus explained his vision for the CPRB composed primarily of City Council members and commissioners, bringing new Deputy Police Chief Jason Forsberg on to help assemble the team. Many residents and even some councilmembers disagreed with his proposal.
Councilmember and HRC member Sumi Kailasapathy, D-Ward 1, argued it does not make sense to have law enforcement policing the AAPD.
“I feel that a deputy of police leading this board, I don’t know if conflict of interest is the right word,” Kailasapathy questioned.
While the residents and HRC continued to discuss the implementation of a review board, the council seemed to reach a compromise when they decided to allow residents to submit their names in order to be selected for a task force to provide input in the formation of a commission.
Residents were advised to offer nominations and submit their requests to join the task force to firstname.lastname@example.org.