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Bill would require more training before being certified in law enforcement

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

A proposal to change how police are trained has been introduced in the Michigan Legislature.

Democratic State Senator Jeff Irwin wants to add certification requirements to the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards (MCOLES). That’s the required certification before someone can become a law enforcement officer. The additional training would be on implicit bias, de-escalation techniques, and learning about mental health issues.

“We know that about a third of the people who are encountering the criminal justice system have documented mental health illnesses. And we know that of the 77 people who've been fatally shot by police in Michigan since 2015, that a third of those people have documented mental health issues,” Irwin said.

Fatal shootings during that period have also involved a disproportionate percentage of people of color.

Some police departments already offer this kind of training, but Irwin says all officers need the training.

“This is not something that they should only learn about when they get to their city department or their county sheriff's department, this is something that once again, it should be talked about from the very beginning of police training,” he said.

He says such training in some cities has resulted in a decrease in the use of force. He believes the training would improve overall relations between police and the people they serve.

“It's really important at a time when so many families are afraid of interactions with the police. We need to send a clear message to the people here in Michigan that we're going to do everything we can to make sure that our police are well-trained, that they understand that the use of excessive force is not acceptable, and that then we hold folks accountable when they cross those lines,” Irwin explained.

He said police are trained on tactics, firearms, and driving. What’s missing, he feels, is how officers can identify mental illness or their own implicit biases and use that knowledge to de-escalate a dangerous situation.

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Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.