East Lansing Creates Independent Police Oversight Commission

On Tuesday, the East Lansing City Council unanimously approved the creation of an Independent Police Oversight Commission to "increase accountability of the East Lansing Police Department and to strengthen conditions leading to trust in the police department by the community that it is pledged to serve." The Commission will "give priority to addressing racial inequities as well as use of force in policing." It will consist of 11 people, each serving a three-year term. Two will be "licensed social workers or psychologists professionally engaged in helping people experiencing crisis, homelessness, mental illness, substance use disorders or domestic abuse," and two members can live outside of the city. The city is accepting applications through August 1st for those interested in serving on the Commission at https://www.cityofeastlansing.com/FormCenter/City-Council-5/Independent-Police-Oversight-Commission--89

The East Lansing City Council also approved a contract for a nonprofit consulting firm from Virginia (CNA Corporation) to conduct a year-long analysis of East Lansing policing "to ensure departmental policies and practices result in fair and impartial policing within the community."

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Pandemic and Delta Variant Update

This past Friday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, in a briefing, called the current situation “a pandemic of the unvaccianted” as cases of COVID-19 surge in almost every state in the country. This has led to cities, such as Los Angeles, reinstating mask mandates indoors, as well as neighboring Orange County recommending wearing masks again. In addition, hospitalizations and deaths related to COVID-19 have risen for the first time in months, and this increase has almost exclusively been in individuals who have not yet been vaccinated. We are nowhere near herd immunity, meaning that unvaccinated people are not safe from the virus that causes COVID-19. There have also been breakthrough COVID-19 cases in those who were fully vaccinated, with the CDC reporting 5,492 recorded breakthrough cases resulting in hospitalization or death as of July 12. Most COVID-19 cases in those fully vaccinated (which are generally caused by the Delta variant), however, have been either asymptomatic or shown mild symptoms, further suggesting the vaccines are effective at preventing severe disease. Overall, the number of breakthrough cases is a very small number considering that 161 million people in the U.S. have been fully vaccinated thus far. If you have any questions about COVID-19vaccines or know others who do, please feel free to reach out to us or to your primary healthcare provider for more information. In addition, please let us know if you are aware of any individuals who would like to get the vaccine but face other barriers to accessing the vaccine and we can help provide resources.

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Flaws in Facial Recognition Technology 

In January 2020, Robert Williams of Farmington Hills was arrested by Detroit police for suspected shoplifting. Police were trying to figure out who stole five watches from a Shinola retail store and pulled a picture from security footage of who they believed was the suspect. That image was then run through facial recognition software. The software came back with an old license photo of Williams. Williams was arrested without any further questioning of where he was during the shoplifting incident or what he was wearing. Williams was questioned and detained for 30 hours before being released on bail. During questioning, Williams pointed out that the person from the security footage clearly did not look like his old license picture or him currently. At the court hearing, the prosecutor dropped the charges due to insufficient evidence. Williams is the first documented example of someone in the United States being wrongfully arrested based on faulty facial recognition technology, but the racism abound in facial recognition is not new. It is well documented that facial recognition software struggles in identified darker-skinned people and often cannot process darker skin at all. Studies show that facial recognition technology has much higher rates of false positives for people of color compared to White people. 

In another local incident this week, a Michigan teen, Lamya Robinson, was barred from entering a Livonia skating rink after her face was scanned using facial recognition software and the rink said that she was involved in a brawl there back in March. Robinson, who is Black, has never been to the rink and therefore was wrongfully banned based on flawed facial recognition. This infringes on the right to be protected from discrimination. 

There are very few safeguards in place to ensure that facial recognition technology is being used responsibly and is not causing harm, particularly given that it is more likely to result in false positives for people with darker skin. Williams is suing the Detroit Police Department in federal court stating that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated and his wrongful arrest is in violation of Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. The lawsuit is seeking damages, better transparency about facial recognition. and policy changes to stop the use of facial recognition technology by the police department. While facial recognition technology expands to more law enforcement agencies, the danger it poses is immense without the proper guidelines, intention, and oversight in place. Williams spoke this week to a U.S. Congressional subcommittee about the dangers of using facial recognition technology to find suspects. 

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Illinois Becomes First State to Ban Police from Lying to Minors in Interrogations

On Thursday, the Governor of Illinois signed a law banning police from lying to minors during interrogations, making it the first state in the U.S. to adopt such a rule. The law bans law enforcement from engaging in deceptive practices while interrogating people under 18 years old, including making false claims about the existence of incriminating evidence and making false promises of leniency, which are commonly used tactics that are known to result in false confessions. In other words, the police commonly lie to children and scare them into saying things that aren't true, and use those false admissions to get convictions. According to the Innocence Project, about 26% of all wrongful convictions overturned by DNA relied on false confessions, and children are two to three times more likely to falsely confess than adults.

Oregon has similar legislation that may soon be signed by the Governor, and it is hoped that states around the U.S. will follow.

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This Week's QM Round-Up Contributors (in alphabetical order):