Ann Arbor Human Rights Commission renews push for local police oversight reform

Thursday, July 14, 2016 - 6:54pm

Citing recent national events and instances of police brutality, the Ann Arbor Human Rights Commission — which is composed of City Council appointees — unanimously passed a statement Wednesday calling on city officials to expedite the creation of a civilian board to monitor the Ann Arbor Police Department.

An oversight body — which would have the power to independently investigate complaints against police officers — was formally proposed in a December 2015 report by the HRC one year after the controversial shooting of Ann Arbor resident Aura Rosser by an AAPD officer. The report also called for the hiring of an independent auditor to review AAPD practices.

However, Ann Arbor Police Chief Jim Baird expressed reservations about the need for a civilian oversight in a June memo to City Council, suggesting the proposal was a knee-jerk reaction rather than driven by any specific issues within the AAPD. Baird further urged nothing be implemented until a third-party audit of his department could be completed.

The HRC’s statement acknowledged Baird’s support for the hiring of an independent police auditor but argued that local officials should take charge in creating any oversight board.

“While a police auditor-consultant can perform a very valuable service by evaluating and suggesting improvements to present police policies and practices, the decision to create a civilian police review board should turn on the City’s vision of police-community partnership,” the HRC wrote.

Furthermore, the HRC statement maintained that police oversight boards are becoming common practice in hundreds of cities nationwide, and therefore the implementation of one in Ann Arbor wouldn’t necessarily signal a criticism of AAPD practices.

“At least 200 cities and other entities, including our own University of Michigan, have established police oversight or review boards,” the HRC wrote. “Some of them have police departments with troubling records. But many, like Ann Arbor, have excellent police departments dedicated to serving their communities well… It is critical that we take a proactive stand to bring our police and community together, facilitate the flow of community input and dialogue, increase law enforcement transparency, and identify and heal any rifts that occur.”

City councilmember Sumi Kailasapathy (D–Ward 1) — who sits on the HRC — told the Daily Wednesday there is no exact timeline for the hiring of an auditor or the implementation of the oversight board by council yet.