Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) and Rep. Ronnie Peterson (D-Ypsilanti) testified on Thursday in front of the Michigan House Judiciary Committee about their bill aimed at addressing police training and excessive force in Michigan.
The bill requires that all police officers receive training on implicit bias and violence de-escalation techniques, as well as take a mental health screening, as a part of their initial training and certification.
The bill also creates continuing reeducation requirements for police officers, which is the first such state requirement for officers. Every officer would be required to complete 12 hours of continuing education starting in 2022, and 24 hours every year starting in 2023.
The bill was introduced in the Michigan Senate last week by Irwin, who represents Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, where it was passed unanimously. The bill’s counterpart in the Michigan House was introduced by Peterson, who represents Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township, where it awaits a vote a full House vote.
In his testimony to the judiciary committee on Thursday, Irwin said the new requirements will offer training on how to de-escalate situations involving mental health crises, as well as training on what mental health resources are available to the officers themselves.
Irwin also pointed out that many police departments across the state already implement de-escalation and implicit bias training, but that it can be an issue of funding. This bill would make such training a requirement, and Irwin urged for additional funding to be appropriated for the additional requirements.
During Rep. Peterson’s testimony, the Ypsilanti representative drew from his own experience with law enforcement and expressed optimism for the difference legislation can make in reforming police departments, “Only in this country do we have this opportunity to have this kind of forum, and have this opportunity to have input on legislation that affects peoples’ lives,” Peterson said.
“I wanted to be able to speak, first of all as a person who has watched law enforcement almost all his entire adult life, I was a civil rights kid [in] Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, Alabama . . .,” Peterson continued, “. . . I remember even when the academies started, I remember in the 60’s when they started the law enforcement academy, when they brought about professional police officer training; it used to be you were just a buddy or a friend and you got hired. And they were all males, very few people of color . . . but it made a difference, through legislation and through training, I’ve seen the enhancement of law enforcement.”
Irwin noted in his testimony that this bill was not in response to the murder of George Floyd in Minneanapolis, but that he started working on this bill shortly after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, while he was a state representative.
“I think there’s a lot more work to be done in this space . . . I don’t think this [bill] will be enough, but I do think it is a small step; it’s a small, necessary, but not sufficient step, towards the sort of action that the public is demanding from our police,” Irwin said.
The bill has strong bipartisan support, with the senate version passing unanimously, but some members of law enforcement groups oppose the bill, like Bob Stevenson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II have both voiced support for the bill, which awaits a vote by the House.
Have questions for Sen. Irwin or Rep. Peterson about their law enforcement bill or about police reform in general? Submit questions here to be answered in an interview: https://forms.gle/P3sbWwqpUDDhA8qh6