If you are a reader of this blog you’ll recognize how frequently I talk about keeping the confidence of the public which is critical to our ability to do our job. You’ll also recall that I serve on the Michigan Commission on Law enforcement Standards–in fact, I’m currently in my 2nd year as its chair. I was appointed by Governor Snyder and previously appointed by Governor Granholm after being nominated by the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police who I represent on the Commission.The mission of MCOLES is lost on many people including currently licensed law enforcement officers. Simply put — our mission, as set in 2 Michigan statutes, is to
“…serve the people of the State of Michigan by ensuring public safety and supporting the criminal justice community…. leadership through setting professional standards in education, selection employment, licensing, license revocation and funding….”
Other state have similar bodies that are often called POST organizations–Police Officer Standards and Training. I realize that some might find this to be an arcane government bureaucracy kind of thing. But it is much more than that. We can’t keep your confidence and be effective in our communities if you don’t trust us.
I came across this interesting article which looks at POST organizations like MCOLES and shows what an effective organization can do and what happens when it doesn’t do its job. If there isn’t an effective “police of the police,” serious problems are visited upon the communities and the residents of those communities with little or no avenue of redress. MCOLES is a state agency with about 18 employees and an executive director who is selected by the 15 member Commission. There are about 19,000 police in Michigan.
In Michigan, MCOLES is charged by state statute to be the “police of the police.” MCOLES can take an officers license to practice under certain conditions and we are one of the states mentioned in the article that can only de-license an officer upon conviction or plea of guilty to a felony. So there has to be a conviction for a felony (serious) crime, not a charge, but a conviction and then the officer is offered due process again through the state’s administrative court system asking them to show cause why they should not lose their license. Ultimately these cases come before the Commission where an official action has to be taken. There are approximately 20 de-licensing actions that occur annually. Most are uncontested, since there has already been a conviction in a court of law. Many are incarcerated.
While I wouldn’t advocate creating a whole new bureaucracy to deal with every potential offense by a police officer in some sort of parallel universe to internal department discipline, I do think there is more that the public expects from us. I think there are some crimes, when convicted (undergone all due process offered under the law) that should require that an officer lose his/her license although it is a misdemeanor crime. For example, a larceny (theft) plea that lowers a felony charge to a misdemeanor would mean that an officer convicted of a misdemeanor larceny could keep his/her job. There are are offenses for which a guilty plea could put an officer on the sex offender list but would not cause them to lose their license. I think the public expects more from us.
Currently there is some legislation that was introduced by Senator Tonya Schuitmaker, R, from southwest Michigan, at our request. It would give the Commission more ability to deal with cops who have been convicted of crimes in a court of law.
The vast, vast majority of Michigan police are highly ethical people who provide selfless service to their communities, sometimes at the cost of their own lives. But there are a few who have made poor choices and do not deserve to wear the same badge. MCOLES helps us keep credibility and serves this state to the best of its ability under its limited budget and authority.