Mich. sheriff tells lawmakers to stop 'peppering' poorly drafted legislation

An Oakland County sheriff asked lawmakers to include LEOs in their discussions


By L.L. Brasier
Detroit Free Press

DETROIT — Expressing growing frustration, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard this afternoon called for state and federal legislators to stop "peppering" law enforcement with poorly drafted legislation, and instead consult police chiefs and sheriffs across the country for better ideas to ease tensions in the communities.

"Law enforcement has been very much pounded lately," Bouchard said at a well attended press conference in Oakland County to announce his "Policing 2.0" proposals, a series of changes in laws and policies he said will bring back the trust between citizens and police. "Law enforcement needs to be driving some of these discussions."

"I don't understand what's going on today," Bouchard said of both state and federal lawmakers. "They don't talk to us. They see something on the Internet and off they go. Almost every day I've seen legislation being introduced by the far right or the far left, this constant berating in the media. Our troop's morale falls."

Bouchard and his staff have been meeting with Lansing, the White House and Capital Hill in recent months to discuss his ideas. "This is a starting point," he said.

Among the changes Bouchard is proposing:

Revising Michigan law to require law enforcement agencies to report to the state all officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths. Bouchard wants this to be a state requirement, and balks at recent proposals to put it in the hands of the federal government. "This needs to stay at the state and local levels," he said. "This goes a long way toward transparency."

Require police departments to submit a form to the state if use of force is involved to overcome active resistance during an arrest, including the use of a stun gun, firearm, or other restraint equipment. "I'm not talking about somebody resisting being handcuffed but active force," Bouchard said.

Better training for reserve or auxiliary officers, with specific statewide standards met. Currently, departments set their own standards for their reserve forces. Several smaller communities in Michigan have come under fire for their hiring of outsiders as reserve officers and what critics say is a lack of training for those reservists.

Better accountability from law enforcement agencies about what property is seized and for what purpose under state and federal asset forfeiture laws. Currently, police departments don't have to report their forfeitures although some do so voluntarily. Bouchard wants the reporting to be mandatory. And he wants the police to have to meet a higher standard in proving that the property seized was the proceed of a crime.

Limits placed on how video from body-worn cameras for police officers can be used. Bouchard wants the video exempt from Michigan's Freedom of Information Act, except in the case where a citizen files a complaint. He says he's worried the videos, available to any citizen who seeks them, and who has an internet connection, will be used to create a "cheap reality TV show at the expense of the public we serve."

Shelli Weisberg, the legislative director for the Michigan chapter of the ACLU, lauded Bouchard's proposals--especially the mandatory reporting of forfeiture and uses of force.

"This is the first time we've actually seen him come out and support those things, so we're very happy about that," she said.

But Weisberg also took issue with Bouchard's assertion that the laws surrounding body cameras should be amended – the law already has several exceptions that benefit police.

"You can't increase community trust out of one side of your mouth if out of the other side of your mouth you say you want to keep video away from the public," she added.

Bouchard announced the proposals in the middle of National Police Week and amid an ongoing debate about the role of police in communities. The deaths of several unarmed black men at the hands of police in Baltimore, New York, and Ferguson have prompted wide-scale protests.

In Michigan, an Inkster police officer was fired and has been charged with felonious assault after he was caught on video, beating a motorist on the head and face after a traffic stop in January. And an Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer shot and killed a 20-year-old in his Detroit home in April. The officer claimed the man was armed with a hammer. That shooting is under investigation.

Copyright 2015 the Detroit Free Press

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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