Detroit Free Press. May 30, 2021.

Editorial: Michigan senators chart a path to real police reform

There is growing consensus that the status quo in policing is unacceptable: among police officers, who find themselves at odds with the communities they’re sworn to serve; among police executives, who struggle to attract new recruits; and among residents who bridle at rough tactics and inequitable treatment.

Universal revulsion at George Floyd’s death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officerspawned a nationwide movement for police reform. Now a biipartisan group of state senators has introduced a 12-bill package that addresses some of Michigan’s most urgent law enforcement challenges: making sure police officers receive adequate training,, providing new tools and legal authority to get bad cops off the streets, and making police departments more transparent and responsive to the citizens they serve.

At the state level, meaningful reform starts with the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards, the state body that establishes curricula for trainees, tests would-be officers to ensure they’ve learned the required information, issues and revokes licenses, and assures that officers possess character fitness.

But the commission has faced challenges in carrying out its brief. Its budget was slashed during the Great Recession, and funding hasn’t been restored. Its ability to investigate officer infractions is constrained, and its findings sometimes clash with outcomes required by arbitration.

A 2017 Free Press investigation found that bad cops are too often shuffled from department to department by executives’ reluctance to risk arbitration. Because there is a police shortage, small departments have sometimes been willing to overlook offenses that should be disqualifying.

After the Free Press’ report, state legislators expanded the commission’s authority to track bad cops and to revoke licenses of those who have committed crimes. The bipartisan legislation introduced this week goes further, requiring the commission to develop guidelines for the independent investigation of officer-involved deaths, adding use of force violations to officers’ separation records, and expanding the list of offenses that trigger the revocation of a police license.

Other bills in the package:

Senate Bill 473, sponsored by Sen. Roger Victory, R-Hudsonville, directs the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards to compose guidelines for the independent investigation of officer-involved deaths and mandates that police agencies follow them

Senate Bill 474, sponsored by Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, would require the police separation records maintained by MCOLES to include use of force violations

Senate Bill 475, sponsored by Sen. Ken Horn, R-Frankenmuth, gives MCOLES the authority to revoke the law enforcement licenses of officers who use excessive force that causes death or serious bodily harm

Senate Bill 476, sponsored by Sen. Jim Ananich, D-Flint, would protect the identity of any person who makes a misconduct complaint against an officer

Senate Bill 477, sponsored by Sen. Adam Hollier, D-Detroit, would allow police unions to refuse representation to a member who presses a meritless grievance

Senate Bill 478, sponsored by Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, would ban use of chokeholds except when a life is at risk

Senate Bill 479, sponsored by Sen. Erika Geiss, D-Taylor, would ban most no-knock warrants, and creates more clarity around “knock and enter” warrants

Senate Bill 480, sponsored by Sen. Ruth Johnson, R-Holly, would require officers to intervene when a colleague uses excessive force and authorize disciplinary action against those who fail to intervene

Senate Bill 481, sponsored by Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, would require police agencies to establish a use of force continuum, issue verbal warnings before using force and require officers to exhaust all possible alternatives before resorting to deadly force

Senate Bill 482, sponsored by Sen Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, would require MCOLES to develop standards for training around de-escalation, implicit bias and behavioral health, and mandate continuing education for officers

Senate Bill 483, sponsored by Sen. Michael MacDonald, R-Macomb Twp., would authorize MCOLES to commission a study examining barriers to recruiting and retaining highly qualified candidates for law enforcement jobs

Senate Bill 484, sponsored by Hollier, would designate tampering with a body camera or deactivating a camera to interfere with an investigation, as evidence tampering

Sens. Roger Victory, R-Hudsonville, and Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, the chair and minority vice chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, deserve plaudits for prioritizing this work, for recognizing that better policing will cost more money, and for assembling support from both parties.

But while the bipartisan mix of sponsors behind the for 12 bills is promising, it’s no guarantee that the package will be delivered intact to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk.

Demands have grown on the left for redirecting law enforcement funds to community investments. But increased community investment and improved policing shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.

The package also faces skepticism from law-and-order Republicans who suspect any reform measure will make the police’s job harder harder.. In a committee hearing last week, Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, speculated, absurdly, that a union might decline to represent a member who boycotted the wedding of another officer’s relative. ).

But most lawmakers at Thursday’s hearing seemed to be negotiating in good faith, starting from different ideological positions, but working toward common ground.

Committee hearings have just begun, and some of these bills’ particulars will doubtless evolve. But we support, in substance, the intent of each. And we’re hopeful that lawmakers from both parties are ready to deliver the constructive changes Floyd’s murder demands.

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(Marquette) The Mining Journal. June 3, 2021.

Editorial: State of Michigan continues to make progress in virus war

Michigan took another big step forward this week, with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday announcing the state has reached the next step in the Vacc to Normal plan in which capacity limits — as of Tuesday — were lifted for outdoor events and residential gatherings, as reported by The Associated Press.

Additionally, indoor capacity limits will increase to 50%, allowing indoor social gatherings such as weddings and funerals to move closer to normalcy, officials said. Face masks will be required only for individuals who are not yet fully vaccinated indoors.

“Because so many Michiganders did their part and stepped up to get vaccinated, we are able to return to normal more quickly,” Whitmer said in a statement. “Our state is closer and closer to being back to normal. Now, Michiganders may celebrate safely with family and friends, with less worry of getting COVID-19.

“We have all been working hard for this moment for over the past year, and I am thankful for every Michigander who has gotten vaccinated to keep themselves, their family and our communities safe. Thanks to them, we can take these final steps towards a return to the normalcy and build our economy back stronger than ever.”

Whitmer encouraged people who haven’t been vaccinated to make an appointment to get a vaccine.

“This pandemic has been so difficult for so many Michiganders. We’ve made incredible sacrifices for the good of public health and the safety of our friends, family and communities,” Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said in a statement. “This vaccine is helping our small businesses reopen their doors. It’s allowing our economy to come back stronger than ever and allows for a sense of normalcy to return for families across our state.

“I hope that this news is an added incentive for those on the fence about getting a vaccine. I will remain focused on encouraging every Michigander to make a vaccine appointment if they haven’t already.”

Our state has come a long way, but we are by no means done with the pandemic. Health officials in Michigan confirmed 445 new COVID-19 cases and 49 deaths from the virus on Saturday. The numbers pushed the state’s total virus cases to 887,719 and deaths to 19,163 since the start of the coronavirus pandemic more than a year ago.

More than 4.5 million Michigan residents have been vaccinated, officials said. However, there are reports that the state may not hit the goal of 70% vaccination rate until August. If our residents don’t continue to proceed with caution, there could be many more deaths and hospitalizations before that goal is met.

By all means, make plans and enjoy the summer weather — but, be smart about it. Until we hit that threshold of 70% or more of the state vaccinated, we must proceed with the understanding that some of our fellow Michiganders are still vulnerable, especially our youth.

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Traverse City. Record-Eagle. June 4, 2021.

Editorial: Pension bond makes perfect sense

The idea of paying off one debt by incurring another debt seems like the kind of maneuver just about everyone should avoid.

Yet, when we’re talking about local governments’ pension debt, such a two-step seems to make perfect sense. Especially at a moment when interest rates are just a shade above zero.

Maybe that’s why we found ourselves nodding along in affirmation during past propositions proffered to the Grand Traverse County board of commissioners to address the county’s lumbering pension debt by issuing bonds. Commissioners at multiple junctures in recent years waved off pension bond plans over concerns similar to ones we normally would espouse about paying for debt with more debt — decisions we disagreed with for a number of reasons.

That’s why we were happy to see the board support such a proposal this week.

Commissioners who voted to move toward issuing pension bonds Wednesday cited the millions in savings the county will realize by filling the pension coffer with borrowed money, then paying back the bond debt at a steady rate over an extended period.

They also pointed toward the extraordinarily low interest rates the county will pay for those bonds.

The former — the part about steady payments — is especially important. Grand Traverse County’s tens of millions in pension debt grabbed statewide attention a half-decade ago when local officials disclosed the fact that the county had saved less than half of the amount of cash it will need to fulfill pension obligations. And in order to meet a 2034 deadline to have that debt paid, the county faced a steep ramp of annual payments that would progressively pinch the local government’s annual budget.

County officials and commissioners have worked since that time to address the debt, sending additional payments each year, and filling the pot to about the 60 percent mark.

But the looming and tightening vise on the county budget lingered.

The bonding plan — beyond saving taxpayers as much as $15 million in the next 13 to 14 years — also will provide budget stability. Instead of facing rising annual payments, should the county follow through with the bonding plan, we should be able to pay off the debt at a stable, reasonable pace.

No current county commissioners or administrative staffers created the behemoth debt problem they face, but they are responsible for digging out of the hole without decimating county services.

Thankfully, they appear set to address their ticking debt bomb with a common sense solution.

END