Members of the Ann Arbor Human Rights Commission addressed City Council Thursday as the body voted to accept the commission’s recommendations regarding police-community relations.
Prompted by the police shooting of Ann Arbor resident Aura Rosser, a Black woman, in 2014, the HRC extensively studied police oversight practices across the country and published a report in November 2015. Washtenaw County prosecutor’s office ultimately declined to press charges against the officer involved in the shooting in January 2015.
The commission’s report calls for the appointment of an independent police auditor, the creation of a civilian board to investigate complaints against police and improved channels for dispute resolution and crisis intervention.
Several members of the locally appointed commission — including two University of Michigan law students — were present at the meeting to speak in favor of adopting the recommendations put forth by their report.
Commission chair Leslie Stambaugh, an Ann Arbor resident, told councilmembers the independent police auditor should urgently be funded by the city’s May budget deadline.
“We want council to provide funding for this before the budget deadline in May so that it can get installed quickly and effectively,” Stambaugh said. “Otherwise, we fear it will get delayed even further and be implemented poorly, and that would be a waste.”
Ann Arbor resident Robert McGee, who was in attendance, also praised the report’s recommendations and the drive for greater police transparency, but cautioned that civilian oversight should not directly obstruct the operations of the Ann Arbor Police Department.
“Nowadays with the mounting societal pressure on our men and women in blue, I fully support any effort to improve relations between them and the public, and in the same breadth I also support a mechanism for the public to be heard,” McGee said. “However, I do caution the citizen oversight board should not interfere with ongoing criminal investigations, departmental disciplinary actions, union issues and any real-time events.”
As the council moved to unanimously approve the resolution to accept the report, the councilmembers acknowledged the work of the commission — who are unpaid volunteers — and the professionalism of the AAPD.
Councilmember Sumi Kailasapathy (D–Ward 1) said the commission fulfilled its civic duty and stressed that the independent police auditor should be immediately funded for the next fiscal year due to gaps in transparency during the commission’s review.
“This was a labor of love. It’s not that (the commission) didn’t think we don’t have the greatest police force, it’s because they believe in democracy,” Kalispathy said, noting the members of the commission committed hours of their time without a budget to write the report.
Kalispathy added that AAPD did not grant the commission full transparency during the drafting of the report, mentioning in particular their refusal to grant access to their “use-of-force forms,” a report commonly filled out by a member of the police department after an officer is accused of excessive force.
Councilmember Jack Eaton (D–Ward 4) commended AAPD, and said increased civilian oversight is not necessarily a criticism of the department.
“I don’t think there’s anyone who’s a bigger fan of our police department than I am, so I want to emphasize that asking for an oversight body isn’t criticism of our police department or their staff,” Eaton said. “The police department shouldn’t police itself.”