Whitmer backs police changes after deaths of Floyd, others

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer provides updates on the COVID-19 pandemic during a news conference in Lansing on April 13, 2020.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called Wednesday for policy changes to prevent police abuses following the killings of George Floyd and other black people, backing continuing education for officers in Michigan and legislation that would require training on implicit bias and de-escalation techniques.

She also urged law enforcement agencies to implement policies so officers must intervene if they see a colleague doing something inappropriate or illegal.

In a statement, Whitmer said the police slayings of Floyd in Minnesota and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky and the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia “were a result of hundreds of years of inequity and institutional racism against black Americans.” She urged police departments to toughen their training and policies, and said she will partner with the Legislature and law enforcement to enact police-related changes into law.

Whitmer did not immediately push for changes on the use of force, however.

“We recognize the shortcomings of the systems in place today — systems that have left black, Latino and other communities of color feeling underserved, even threatened by law enforcement,” said Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II, who is African American.

Even before the Democratic governor’s announcement, a Republican-led Senate committee planned to hold a hearing on a Democratic-sponsored bill that would, starting in 2022, require officers to complete training on implicit bias, de-escalation techniques and mental health screening. Some Michigan police departments already mandate some form of such training, but Sen. Jeff Irwin of Ann Arbor said it should be universal.

The panel and full Senate planned to quickly pass the measure Thursday, just a week after its introduction.

House Democrats on Wednesday unsuccessfully tried amending a coronavirus spending bill to prohibit officers that receive hazard pay from using knee holds and choke holds as restraint practices. Floyd died after an officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleading for air.

“This would be but a small first step on the long path towards achieving justice and effectuating change,” said Rep. Abdullah Hammoud of Dearborn.

Since Floyd’s death last week in Minneapolis, there have been several protests across Michigan against police abuses and racial injustice, with some cities instituting curfews to stop property damage. Demonstrators gathered in Detroit for a six straight night Wednesday.

Police arrested 127 people Tuesday night, mostly for violating a curfew after several warnings were given, said chief James Craig. He said 80 live outside the city and six show addresses in California, New York, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

Activist Ray Winans, alongside Craig, told reporters that while city residents will not stand for police brutality, they also will not allow neighborhoods to see fires and looting that has occurred elsewhere.

“Keep that stuff in your own cities, your states,” Winans said. “We’re trying to repair our neighborhoods. We’re working on our houses. Please stay out of our neighborhoods. Leave everybody in the city of Detroit alone.”

Whitmer requested that the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards give guidance to law enforcement agencies on continuing education. According to a 2017 report delivered to then-Gov. Rick Snyder by MCOLES, which licenses officers, Michigan was among only six states to not mandate in-service training for active-duty police.

Firearms recertification is the only annual standard required by MCOLES, though the state police require its troopers to complete annual training on other topics.

The governor said the department is working to recruit minority troopers, has created an equity and inclusion officer position, and has hired community service troopers to focus on community outreach efforts such as mentoring youth.

AP writer Corey Williams in West Bloomfield contributed to this report.