June 12, 2020: Message to community on Black Lives Matter and police accountability

To the Spartan Community:

Since I last wrote to you, we have continued to witness nationwide protests, rallies and an intense focus on systematic racism, police brutality, and the Black Lives Matter movement. The horrific abuse and deaths of Black Americans cannot continue, and we all must demand answers and accountability. At MSU, we have a responsibility to uphold our values and a duty to honor them.

Since my arrival at MSU last August, my top priority has been to foster a respectful, welcoming, supportive and, above all, safe campus. Given the incidents of the past month, governments, institutions and the public are questioning the conduct of their law enforcement agencies, so it’s an appropriate time to share some of the policies governing the MSU Police Department.

Last year, MSUPD implemented a stand-alone policy on fair and impartial policing. Recent events and amplified calls nationally for law enforcement reform prompted an additional review of department policies. I am pleased to report that the list below matches the national calls to action to help minimize harm caused by police units. MSUPD already practices six of the eight policies below, and has now adapted the other two:

  1. Ban chokeholds and strangleholds in non-deadly force situations: MSUPD does not train its officers in such restraint procedures and has now incorporated this point into explicit policy.
  2. Require officers to de-escalate situations, where possible, by communicating with subjects, maintaining distance and otherwise eliminating the need to use force
  3. Require officers to give a verbal warning, when possible, before shooting at a civilian
  4. Require officers to exhaust all other reasonable means before resorting to deadly force
  5. Require officers to intervene and stop excessive force used by other officers and to report any such incidents immediately to a supervisor: This expectation is now made explicit in department policy.
  6. Restrict officers from shooting at moving vehicles, which is regarded as a particularly dangerous and ineffective tactic
  7. Develop a force continuum that limits the types of force and/or weapons that can be used to respond to specific kinds of resistance
  8. Require officers to report each time they use force or threaten to use force against civilians

MSU calls on law enforcement leaders in our mid-Michigan community and across the state to adopt such policies as well.

Accountability and service
For the past 20 years, the MSUPD has equipped its patrol vehicles with audio/video equipment and, in 2015, added body-worn cameras for all uniformed officers to enhance accountability and transparency.

The MSUPD was among the first university-based departments in the country in 2016 to establish an Inclusion and Anti-Bias Unit to improve community relationships and support its community policing efforts. The unit strives to increase trust by listening to community concerns and finding positive methods to solve issues through communication strategies and training and by focusing on four tenets: education, community outreach, bias incident response and consultations.

The Inclusion and Anti-Bias Unit hosts groups to learn training techniques in de-escalation and potential use of force. It produced a yearly conference on strengthening law enforcement/community relations and seminars to train local law enforcement officers on implicit bias. The unit hosted guest speakers for public events, such as MSU criminal justice associate professor Jennifer Cobbina, who is known for her research on citizen protest and police relations in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri. 

The MSUPD plans to post its policies online this year and is working to determine the best way to collect citizen contact demographic data, to increase accountability.

The MSUPD is also a member of Advocates and Leaders for Police and Community Trust (ALPACT), a 20-year-old voluntary group coordinated by the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion. Members of ALPACT include law enforcement, community, advocacy, and civil rights leaders. The mission is to examine issues affecting police and community relations and community partnership programs, as well as discriminatory enforcement of laws, such as racial profiling, police use of force. 

I hope our society has finally achieved a tipping point where Black Lives Matter is acknowledged without equivocation and where all people are treated humanely and equally under the law on the street as well as in our legal texts. I call on all Spartans to support these aspirations, which, after all, reflect the core values of this university.


Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D.