How Senate Bill 945 Aims to Aid Police Reform in Michigan

Plus, a look at why the bill is being passed now and who supported it
sb 945 - michigan senate police reform
Michigan State Capitol building courtesy of IStock

Today, Michigan’s Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 945. The bill calls for an increase in police training and a decrease in excessive force. Here’s a quick look at what that means, where the bill came from, and why it’s being passed now.

What does SB 945 include?

The bill requires all incoming law enforcement to complete training on implicit bias, violence de-escalation tactics, and mental health screening. Some police departments in the state already require a form of de-escalation, cultural competency, and implicit bias training, but SB 945 requires that this education is part of each officer’s initial Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards training and certification. 

Where did SB 945 come from?

Michigan Democratic Sen. Jeff Irwin of district 17 — which encompasses Ann Arbor, Saline, Ypsilanti, and Milan — introduced the bill on May 28. “Officers are drilled on tactics, firearms, and forensics. They practice shooting and driving. What is missing from our fundamental police training standards are how officers can identify mental illness or their own implicit biases, and use that knowledge to de-escalate a dangerous situation,” he said in a statement released on his website. The Michigan Democratic Party says Sen. Winnie Brinks and Sen. Marshall Bullock were among the leading Democrats sponsoring the bill with Irwin.

How will this aid police reform in the state?

According to Irwin, large police departments across the U.S. that have already implemented the type of training that SB 945 requires have seen a decline in use of force.

Why are Michiganders advocating for police reform?

According to a Washington Post database, nearly 80 people have been fatally shot by police in Michigan since 2015. This follows a national trend. This year alone, nearly 1,030 people have been shot and killed by police in the U.S. These numbers, of course, don’t include police who have killed civilians using other methods, such as excessive force. Despite making up 13 percent of the population, black Americans are killed by police at more than twice the rate of white Americans. The recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade — and the protests across the country that have demanded justice for their deaths — are shinning a spotlight on this disparity.

Who supported the bill?

Yesterday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called for the state’s law enforcement agencies to enhance their training and policies and commended the Senate for taking on SB 945. “Here in Michigan, we are taking action and working together to address the inequities Black Michiganders face every day,” she said. “That’s why I’m calling on Michigan police departments to strengthen their training and policies to save lives and keep people safe. I am also ready to partner with the Michigan Legislature and law enforcement officials to pass police reform bills into law.” Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist added, “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. People across Michigan have been calling for changes to police practices, and these actions are clear steps in the direction of needed reform.”

Col. Joe Gasper, director of the Michigan State Police; Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon; Lansing Police Chief Daryl Green; Michigan Legislative Black Caucus Chair and Sen. Marshall Bullock; Detroit Caucus Chair and Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo; and Grand Rapids City Manager Mark Washington also vocalized their support for police reform.

What’s next?

Sen. Irwin acknowledges that passing the bill in the Senate is just the first step to police reform in the state. “…We shouldn’t forget it’s a small step forward in righting years of unlawful police brutality,” he said in a statement following today’s vote. “Training for police officers is one crucial way the Legislature can improve policing, specifically for those Black and Brown Americans who are disproportionately targeted.” Now, SB 945 will head to the Michigan House.

In the mean time, organizations across the country continue to fight for police reform and policies such as banning chokeholds, requiring de-escalation, and warnings before shooting. In fact, according to the 8 Can’t Wait project by the nonprofit Campaign Zero, there are eight policies that can decrease police violence by 72 percent. You can learn more about the project at 8cantwait.org and about other organizations fighting for police reform and against racial injustice, here.

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