Proposed bill to increase police officer training, decrease excessive force

Thursday, May 28, 2020 - 1:32pm

Former Michigan House Rep. Jeff Irwin speaks to the College Democrats in October of 2015.

Former Michigan House Rep. Jeff Irwin speaks to the College Democrats in October of 2015. Buy this photo
File Photo/Daily

State Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, introduced a bill Thursday to strengthen community-police relations and reduce the excessive use of force by police officers. 

“Officers are drilled on tactics, firearms and forensics,” Irwin said in a press release. “They practice shooting and driving. What is missing from our fundamental police training standards are how officers can identify mental illness or their own implicit biases and use that knowledge to de-escalate a dangerous situation.”

If passed, the bill would require all incoming law enforcement officers to complete training on implicit bias, de-escalation techniques and mental health screenings.

This bill comes less than a week after George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, Minn., was killed as a result of a white police officer kneeling on his neck. According to video footage captured at the scene, Floyd can be heard saying that he could not breathe. The incident has sparked protests in Minneapolis and across the country over the past several days. 

According to a study conducted by the Washington Post, more than 77 people have been fatally shot by police officers in Michigan since 2015. Nearly half of these fatalities were non-white individuals and close to a third were suffering from a documented mental illness.

“Our community needs to change the culture that drives a wedge between police and the people they serve,” Irwin said. “Great police agencies are already training their officers in implicit bias and mental health screening. The legislature needs to make these best practices in police training the law.”

Many large police departments nationwide, such as the Dallas Police Department and the Las Vegas Police Department, that have implemented procedural justice and de-escalation training have reported a decline in the use of force.

Some Michigan police departments already require some form of de-escalation, cultural competency or implicit bias training, but this bill would require that every officer receive such training as part of their initial Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards (MCOLES) training and certification.

“Unlike most other professionals, police officers have just seconds to make life-altering decisions — often under high-stress conditions — so it’s essential we give them all of the necessary tools to keep residents safe,” Irwin said. 

Irwin, a University of Michigan alum, had also been involved with writing the 2014 bill requiring Michigan police agencies to provide body cameras for officers following Ann Arbor resident Aura Rosser being fatally shot by police on Nov. 9, 2014. 

This also comes two days after protestors gathered at the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office in Ypsilanti Township in response to a video of a white Washtenaw County sheriff’s deputy appearing to punch a Black woman in the head multiple times during an arrest early Tuesday.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich, released a statement regarding the incident.

“The Washtenaw community is hurting,” Dingell said. “The incident that occurred this week causes all of us to search our conscience. Brutality by anyone is never ok and whenever we witness violence captured on video it is deeply disturbing.”

Daily Staff Reporter Iulia Dobrin can be reached at idobrin@umich.edu.