Michigan Senate panel approves requiring implicit bias training for police

Lansing — As national protests against police brutality continue, a Michigan Senate panel approved Thursday morning a bill that would require law enforcement officers to go through implicit bias and de-escalation training.

The proposal, which has the backing of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, describes implicit bias training as “an evidence-based program to provide fair and impartial law enforcement by increasing awareness of and improving response strategies to unconscious bias.”

The Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee voted 7-0 to send the bill to the full Senate. The vote came 10 days after George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minnesota ignited national outrage focused on law enforcement’s handling of black Americans.

But Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, who sponsored the bill, said it wasn’t a response to Floyd’s death. He began circulating the proposal before May 25. He said the proposal was spurred by “countless other incidents of police brutality.”

Sen. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township,who chairs the public safety committee, echoed Irwin’s statements, saying “we are here because of multiple years” that led to where the country was Thursday.

The bill requires the training standards for new officers beginning in 2022 and for other officers who haven’t previously completed the training.

While the committee vote was unanimous, the bill received opposition Thursday from the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association and the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police.

Robert Stevenson, executive director of the police chiefs organization, called Floyd’s death “horrendous.” But he said the Legislature shouldn’t dictate training standards for law enforcement. That job should go to professionals who work in law enforcement, and much of the training in the bill is already happening, he said.

Police officers go to work willing to risk their lives, Stevenson said.

“I’ve listened to the vilification of our profession for the last week or so, lumping all of our police officers in,” he added.

But Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton spoke in support of the proposal, arguing that it was about mitigating risk. Whitmer, the Democratic governor, included Irwin’s bill Wednesday in a set of police reforms she’s supporting.


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