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 Protesters listened to activists June 13 outside the Hazel Park Civic Center before taking to the sidewalks with their signs, standing at all four corners of Nine Mile and John R roads.

Protesters listened to activists June 13 outside the Hazel Park Civic Center before taking to the sidewalks with their signs, standing at all four corners of Nine Mile and John R roads.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Police chiefs review law enforcement in BLM era

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published June 19, 2020


MADISON HEIGHTS/HAZEL PARK — In recent weeks, communities around the world have seen protests against police brutality and racial profiling. The horror of George Floyd’s death by Minneapolis Police brought renewed attention to the Black Lives Matter movement that seeks to correct injustices in a law enforcement system that disproportionately hurt people of color.

The public dialogue has even begun to consider ideas such as defunding or abolishing police, an idea that a veto-proof majority of the Minneapolis City Council has chosen to pursue — although it remains to be seen what model will replace it.

The incident has police chiefs across the nation reflecting on the situation. Here’s what police officials in Madison Heights and Hazel Park had to say.

Hazel Park
Hazel Park Police Chief Brian Buchholz said he understands the anger that people are feeling.

“The incident that occurred in Minnesota is a tragedy and should’ve never happened. I believe everyone in law enforcement is upset, angered and saddened along with the rest of the country,” Buchholz said. “There is no excuse for what happened. I know we all make mistakes and bad things do happen. Some of these things should never occur, though, and every step should be taken to prevent them. Police have to be held accountable for these incidents.”

The Hazel Park Police Department does not allow chokeholds — the maneuver that led to Floyd’s death when an officer held a knee to his neck for more than eight minutes. Buchholz said that his department also does not carry the tear gas and rubber bullets that have caused controversy in other cities where they were used to disperse peaceful protesters. In the event of a riot, Hazel Park Police would call upon partners at the county to assist them.

“We are a very small department that relies on our partners in the county and other cities for mutual aid,” Buchholz said. He also noted that Hazel Park does not participate in no-knock warrants — another controversial practice where a judge can grant police a warrant to enter a property without notifying the person who lives there, which led to the death of Breonna Taylor, a black emergency medical technician, at her Kentucky home in March. The officers at the Hazel Park Police are also trained in deescalation techniques.

Buchholz added that his department conducts extensive pre-employment background checks, psychological evaluations, drug screenings and physicals. The state also now requires a department to give a reason for an officer’s separation, and the department must disclose if the officer resigned due to pending discipline or termination.

“This welcomed change in the separation process is making it much more difficult for ‘bad apple’ officers to continue working in other areas,” Buchholz said.

He said that he hopes people keep perspective with regard to police.

“We have officers that are doing great things in this city, county, state and across the country,” Buchholz said. “One thing I don’t understand is the vilification of our profession as a whole. I know the police are held to a higher standard, but if a doctor does something wrong, the entire profession does not get tarnished.”

Madison Heights
In Madison Heights, the city’s police chief, Corey Haines, and city manager, Melissa Marsh, co-wrote a report detailing what the city has done to keep everyone safe. The report takes into account recommendations by Campaign Zero, a police reform campaign by activists associated with Black Lives Matter.

First, the chief’s report notes that Madison Heights does not subscribe to the “broken windows” policing model, which advances the idea that minor physical and social disorder in a neighborhood leads to more serious crime. Campaign Zero calls on police to decriminalize or de-prioritize enforcement of low-level offenses such as drug possession, public intoxication, loitering, jaywalking, disorderly conduct and prostitution, and to address those issues with a community-based alternative. This reduces the number of police encounters that could potentially turn violent.

The city also allows for community oversight of police. Campaign Zero recommends this to foster police accountability. In Madison Heights, this takes the form of citizen-led boards such as the Crime Commission and Civil Service Commission, reviewing police budget items and hiring practices, and hearing disciplinary cases. At the suggestion of several council members, the city is also now researching a new committee that would include the activities of the current Crime Commission and Multicultural Relations Board.

“This new committee would focus on the city and department’s current needs and issues related to diversity, racial relations and community engagement,” the report reads.

Another focus for Campaign Zero is limiting the use of police force, with research showing that restrictive use of force policies such as chokeholds are less likely to kill people and are safer for officers, as well. To this end, the Madison Heights Police do not allow chokeholds. Officers are also not allowed to use a TASER on specific body parts such as the head or neck, or to strike with a baton unless they’re hitting muscle mass. There are also bans on shooting at vehicles. All uses of a TASER are reported to the city, and all uses of force are reported to the FBI. All uses of force will now be submitted to the Crime Commission and the new community board, as well.

In addition, while the command staff investigates all citizen complaints and internal complaints, any criminal complaints about police conducts are turned over to an outside agency — usually the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department or Michigan State Police. According to Campaign Zero, only 1% of all killings for police lead to an officer being charged with a crime.

As of the budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year, each officer will also be issued a body camera, and the department will be replacing the existing in-car video camera system. This provides an extra layer of accountability by recording an officer’s actions in the field. The city is developing policies that include ensuring public access to footage, which will require hiring a records clerk to facilitate this. The clerk position has been budgeted but is currently on hold until the cameras are implemented.

More policies in Madison Heights
Campaign Zero also calls for more diversity on the police force, in order for officers to better respond to the cultural, racial and gender diversity they encounter.

“Despite the difficulties in recruitment of police officers, we have actively worked to diversify our Police Department to represent the community we serve,” the city’s report states.

Plans include the expansion of the police academy reimbursement program to attract recruits and the creation of recruitment videos aimed at a more diverse pool of candidates.

Madison Heights had a population of nearly 30,000 as of the 2010 census — the 2020 census is currently underway. The city now has a total of 56 sworn officers and police service aides that include three female officers and four female police service aides. The population of Madison Heights was roughly 81% white in 2010. Today, nearly 88% of its police are white. Blacks accounted for 9.5% of the city’s population in 2010. Today, nearly 5.5% of the Madison Heights Police are black.

Police training is another priority for the city. According to Campaign Zero, the typical police recruit, nationwide, spends 58 hours learning how to shoot but only eight hours learning to deescalate. In the city of Madison Heights, officers spent more than 2,700 hours last year on in-service training, including implicit bias training, deescalation training, spray training (pepper spray), TASER training, mental health response training, crisis intervention training and more.

And where the militarization of the police is concerned, the report notes that Madison Heights Police only have one piece of military equipment, in the form of a 1973 armored personnel carrier that is generally only used for barricaded gunman situations. The vehicle has heavy plate armor that is used to protect the officers from gunfire.

Marsh said the police in Madison Heights are focused on “intelligent, respectful interactions” with the community and that they will continue to follow best practices.

“This is possible because of (Haines’) leadership and the professional men and women we have in the department,” Marsh said. “Whether you are a visitor or live or work in Madison Heights, you can feel safe in our community, and enjoy all our city has to offer.”