Ann Arbor Rejects Racism

In the last week, I have been focused on what I can do to craft policy responses to recent events in our country, our county, and in our culture. I appreciate that I have a position with responsibility to act. In the last few days, I have gotten thousands of emails from all over the country (and also from Europe). That has slowed my response to local emails and it has also delayed me sitting down to write the statement below: As a community, Ann Arbor rejects racism in all forms. We support and fund anti-racist efforts in various ways in collaboration with community nonprofits and the county. We promote anti-racist efforts through institutions like the Human Rights Commission and the Independent Community Police Oversight Commission. Every resident should understand this about Ann Arbor: we strive to do better every day and we know our responsibility to reflect on HOW we can do better moving forward. In recent days, I have done more listening than talking because I recognize that I am a privileged white woman with limited life experience to bring to these topics. There are limits to what City Council can do, but I am working where I can on proposals that would be meaningful and appropriate for our community. I’ve been in multiple meetings a day with community advocates, residents, our own city attorneys, independent attorneys (with expertise in police oversight), and our police chief. Last week, our collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the Police Officers Association was pulled off a City Council agenda precisely because we recognized the need for more community conversation about it. Residents who have emailed me about the significance of the CBA are correct, that this is an opportunity for assessment of our policies as well as our funding needs. I have perspectives on both. For anyone who does not know, I have been paying attention to the issue of independent police oversight since a task force in 2018 invested hundreds of hours in crafting a proposal for City Council. I attended task force meetings before I was seated on City Council and I watched (as an observer rather than a participant) when City Council ultimately approved a compromised version of what the task force proposed to them. I remember how the CBA was held up as an obstacle to many elements included in the recommendations of that task force. In the last week, I presented many questions to our legal staff about how to fix this, how to negotiate that CBA to empower our oversight commission. I believe this is one of the most important things we can do. In terms of funding, I believe that every conversation has to start with where we are as a community and what our needs are. Compared to other communities, the city of Ann Arbor has had few police incidents that ended in tragedy -- the Aura Rosser incident is worth analysis precisely because such outcomes are horrifying and not the accepted norm in our community. None of us accept a civilian death as a reasonable, appropriate outcome of police intervention. Relative to other communities, Ann Arbor also has few publicized incidents of other forms of police misconduct. Is that because it isn’t happening or is that because we just don’t hear about it? I believe that we should want an answer to that question and that is why we established an independent community police oversight commission in 2018. We know of one significant obstacle to understanding what policing looks like in our community: our oversight commission does not have adequate access to information. Information comes indirectly, in summary or heavily redacted because our commission does not qualify for access to the most significant state database of reports: Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN). State policy is very specific about what kinds of organizations may have access to LEIN and our oversight commission has been told that it does not qualify. I am bringing a resolution to Council next week and I will ask my colleagues to support sending the message to Governor Whitmer and our representation in Lansing: allow our oversight commission access to LEIN so that they can offer meaningful review of what is happening in our community. I have received many emails asking me to either completely defund our police force, eliminate specific percentages of funding or re-direct certain amounts of funding elsewhere. Here is what I know about our current policing system: we have a police chief who is committed to understanding community priorities as well as collecting data on his officers’ work in our community. Chief Cox is looking to us to support his efforts. Chief Cox wants to understand what police are responding to in our community – this data is the first step in starting community conversations around what police should and should not be doing in our neighborhoods. Current community conversation around police funding raises questions that all city leaders are committed to answering: what are our needs? What are the best solutions for them? Are police intervening where they shouldn’t? If police intervention is not the solution, what is the better one? I am committed to conversations that are specific to Ann Arbor, that contemplate what is happening here. Nationally, many people are discussing protocols and best practice recommendations for policing, most of which are known to our police chief and already standard policy in our local department. Well before national events elevated community discussion on this topic, Chief Cox referenced many of the “eight can’t wait” ideals (now promoted by President Obama) as part of a presentation to City Council. We know that our community needs to be fully committed to the goal of ending police brutality. I look forward to ongoing discussion among residents, advocates, our city staff, and my colleagues on Council about steps moving forward.

Elizabeth NELSON

DEMOCRAT for Ann Arbor City Council Ward 4

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PO Box 2243. Ann Arbor. MI 48106-2243