Community Forum on Police Relations Set for October 19

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Thursday, October 13, 2016, 4:59 pm
By: 
Ian Hoopingarner

Above: East Lansing Black Lives Matter vigil, October 6, 2016.

East Lansing Police will hold an open forum on community relations with the police next Wednesday, October 19, 2016, in the Hannah Community Center auditorium. Besides Police Chief Jeff Murphy, the panel will also include local Black Lives Matter coordinator La Shawn Erby, MSU professor and filmmaker Jeff Wray, Derrell Slaughter from the American Civil Liberties Union, MSU Black Law Students Association President Myles Baker, and Mike Vasievich, an East Lansing resident. The forum will be moderated by Mariah Harrison, an TV news anchor for WLNS Channel 6.

Tensions in the United States have been growing over police killings of unarmed black men, creating significant protests over the deaths of many, including Laquan McDonald in Chicago, Samuel DeBose in Cincinnati, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, and Philando Castile in Minneapolis.

“In light of national events, police shootings and community protests that have occurred around the country,” the flyer for the event notes, “ELPD recognizes the importance of reaching out and engaging with the community it serves.”

The purpose of the forum, from ELPD’s perspective, is to “assess what practices are working and which ones need to be looked at with regard to providing quality services to all community members and stakeholders in East Lansing.”

Shortly after he was named East Lansing’s Police Chief, Jeff Murphy spoke with ELi’s Alice Dreger about police bias and de-escalation techniques. Regarding training to improve awareness of inherent bias, Murphy said that, to date, 35 ELPD officers had gone through an MSU Police anti-bias training course that provides “an awareness of your individual, inherent biases.” Murphy indicated the department hoped to provide more training of this sort to officers.

Murphy also underscored the emphasis that ELPD places on de-escalation. “If we are dealing with people, we are de-escalating something,” he said. Later, the Chief added that “communication,” rather than other non-lethal tools like batons, pepper spray or Tasers, is ELPD’s most commonly-used tool.

At a Black Lives Matter vigil held on October 6 in downtown East Lansing, speakers highlighted some of the past problems with enforcement from ELPD that may be raised at the forum next week, including an incident several years ago where an East Lansing High School student was taken to the ground and Tasered by police officers.

During his ELi interview, Chief Murphy made it clear that in his opinion, “what’s better than formalized training is getting out to know the community.”

The Wednesday, October 19 forum is scheduled to run from 6-9 p.m. at the White Performing Arts Theatre of the Hannah Community Center, 819 Abbot Road.

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