The Ann Arbor Independent Community Police Oversight Commission met Tuesday night to discuss the state of their relationship with the Ann Arbor Police Department, upcoming community initiatives and their new complaint review process.
Commission Chair Lisa Jackson began the meeting by announcing that ICPOC is now in the process of reviewing all complaints from 2020, after nearly two years of access impediments. Out of 43 police misconduct complaints filed since the commission began work in April 2019, disciplinary action was taken by the AAPD on only one, MLive reported in December.
Though the commission has no real disciplinary authority, its primary purpose is to conduct independent reviews of incidents and complaints and to recommend policy changes. However, years of strain and miscommunication often limited its abilities to do even that, Commissioner Sarah Burch told Current in July.
“The commission’s purpose is to work along with the police,” Burch said in the Current piece. “We might as well not exist if we are not able to actively participate.”
The ICPOC was established in 2019 to help bridge the gap between Ann Arbor residents and the city’s police department. The creation of the commission came after community backlash over the police killing of Aura Rosser, a Black woman who was fatally shot by Ann Arbor police in 2014. Community members continue to mourn Rosser’s death through annual vigils and protests against police brutality.
Amid nationwide protests against police brutality this past summer, calls for increased transparency or defunding of police departments grew more vocal. In June, Jackson criticized Mayor Christopher Taylor for failing to acknowledge ICPOC functions and efforts. The committee also denounced Chief of Police Michael Cox for refusing to include the officer names in the misconduct complaints submitted to the committee for review.
According to discussion at Tuesday’s meeting, over the past two months, AAPD and ICPOC have compromised on a streamlined review process that appoints no more than three “information managers” from the commission who may access confidential case files at any given time. Commissioners will only be allowed to review case files once the police department has concluded their initial investigation — as a result, ICPOC has not yet received any complaints from 2021 to review. In what Jackson referred to as their “pilot test run” with an online portal, ICPOC information managers can now access body cam videos and reports, some unredacted, remotely.
Jackson also announced that the commission is currently in discussions with the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department to establish protocols surrounding the creation of unarmed crisis response teams, particularly in cases of mental health calls.
“It means finding a model where being unarmed is the standard and baseline (for mental health crisis responses) and developing that kind of public safety for the community,” Jackson said.
The issue of unarmed public safety response has gained traction among the Ann Arbor City Council, with Taylor co-sponsoring a resolution on the council’s April 5 agenda to establish a program for unarmed crisis response teams by the end of the year. City Council has also committed to using revenue from excise taxes on recreational marijuana to support these unarmed responders.
On the heels of these developments, Commission Vice Chair Frances Todoro-Hargreaves and Commissioner Bonnie Billups updated the ICPOC about a March 16 meeting with the Police Officers Association of Michigan, the state’s police union, which they said yielded promising results for the commission.
“We asked them questions, they asked us questions, basically just to clear the air and get to know each other,” Todoro-Hargreaves said.
Two points of contention in past years between the commission and police have been the ability to review body camera footage, as well as access to the Law Enforcement Information Network, Michigan’s computerized filing system for criminal justice agencies. According to both Billups and Todoro-Hargreaves, members of the police union indicated that they were “very supportive” and would fully cooperate in all ICPOC requests for body cam footage.
Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, thanked Todoro-Hargreaves and Billups for “breaking the ice,” and said the meeting was overdue.
“The lack of information, misunderstanding and lack of trust really makes our jobs a lot much more difficult,” Ramwali said. “I appreciate that quick conversation, it led to some common understanding, it can lead to further dialogue. We need to build that trust. So hopefully, it can continue.”
This meeting comes after the Ann Arbor City Council passed a resolution at a June 2020 meeting advocating for more robust processes for civilians to review policing in the city. This resolution included allowing the ICPOC access to the LEIN, which is usually only given to law enforcement agencies.
Burch updated the commission on her meeting with the board of Avalon Housing, which advocates for affordable housing for low-income residents in Washtenaw County and houses many homeless individuals. Burch described the board’s concerns about continued over-policing in their community and suggested that ICPOC designate a liaison role for their residents to more effectively communicate with the commission.
“They are really invested in the work that we’re doing,” Burch said. “They want to know how that trust and community can be built between the police and their residents.”
The commissioners also discussed Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton’s recent announcement that he would forgive half a million dollars worth of jail debt for anyone incarcerated in Washtenaw County between 2013 and 2020.
Commissioner Mohammad Othman said the elimination of crippling fines and fees, which often keep poor residents in cycles of imprisonment for minor infractions, was something the commission hoped to tackle.
“The cascade of one thing leads to the second and you start with something related to a few bucks at the stop sign, and now you are being brought to court, and more is imposed on you, and you might be apprehended or placed in jail and you have to pay for that,” Othman said. “(Our goal is) helping out those individuals by having them informed of what they need to do in case they have this issue.”
Commissioner Jude Walton reported that she had received informal approval from the City Administrator’s Office for ICPOC’s annual budget — meaning it is not yet finalized — with zero cuts from previous years and a small amount of additional funding for training incoming commissioners.
“(Walton’s budget) plan will make sure that there is a continuation of education for all commissioners throughout their tenure on this commission,” Jackson said.
Daily News Contributor Arielle Gordon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.