In An Age Where Information Is Currency for Public Officials, Transparency Dictates The Exchange Rate

Part Two in a Series

Posted In: Politics, , Opinion,   From Issue 899   By: Nathan Collison

15th July, 2020     0

As a prosecutor for Saginaw County I worked with many law enforcement agencies on cases ranging from traffic violations to murder. The overwhelming majority of people accused of all of those crimes were African American males. 

In addition to the “crime fighting,” I conducted training seminars on topics such as search and seizure and updates on caselaw at law enforcement conferences and police chiefs’ meetings for police and prosecutors to help them when interacting with people suspected of committing crimes. 

In the law, we often use deductive reasoning methods such as the syllogism for legal analysis. At the risk of waxing philosophical, the classic example of this brand of logical argument basically goes like this: Socrates is a man, all men are mortal, therefore Socrates is mortal. 

Now think about this syllogism for a moment:  I lectured and conducted seminars regarding policing and prosecution, the overwhelming majority of the people that are arrested and prosecuted are African American males, therefore, one could argue that I was actually giving lectures and seminars on how to more effectively police and prosecute African American males. 

Antiquity aside, if I thought that was the elephant in the room back then, it is surely a herd of elephants now.

These days, most of my practice is focused on defending people accused of crimes. Over 90% of my clients are African Americans. By now this shouldn’t surprise me, but it still does. Of those clients, I am appointed by the county to represent some of them because they are indigent and cannot afford an attorney. I do this because I became a lawyer to help people. Also, based on my experience as a prosecutor, these clients make up the most vulnerable and disenfranchised portion of the population adversely impacted by our society’s Draconian laws and antiquated approach to policing and criminal justice.

Here's a good illustration of a common theme that exists when engaging in conversation with my black clients: white privilege is real, it often influences their everyday decisions, and the biggest offender is the police. I even have one African American client who has a white girlfriend that he calls "his privilege." This is because of the disparity between the way he is treated at stores, restaurants, public offices, by police, and by white people when they are together and the way he is treated when they are not. Hearing this was simultaneously heart breaking and enraging.

Believe me when I say that the criminal justice system works differently for blacks and whites.  The reasons are racial, they are socio-economic, and they are systemic. It is true from the bottom all the way up. The frequency with which blacks are detained or arrested in my observation is much higher than whites. The bond amounts that are issued by our courts in my observation are also higher for blacks than they are whites. 

In fact, I currently have a client who is being held, at least in part, on a $25,000 cash surety bond for driving while license suspended. That’s right, he has to pay $25,000 or put up equivalent collateral to get out of jail for DRIVING WITHOUT A LICENSE! 

Now, in the spirit of full disclosure that is not this individual’s only charge; but regardless of the other circumstances, anyone who thinks that $25,000 cash surety bond for driving without a license is common or reasonable probably doesn't have much experience with a criminal justice system - especially one that frequently imposes harsher penalties on blacks than whites. Particularly, black males of a certain age. 

This bond request disparity between blacks and whites was one of the questions posed to Saginaw PD police Chief Bob Ruth. 

Those questions were printed in the first installment of this series. As a refresher, those questions were as follows:

  1. Why do you think that the recent City Council resolution will do anything to change law enforcement practices, and what, if any, current training or continuing education policies are in place and how is compliance enforced?                                                    
  2. What, if anything, was done to address these issues in SPD after the Milton Hall incident, who and how many officers were disciplined, are any of the officers involved in the death of Milton Hall still with the SPD, and if not, where did they go, and what role did the city manager play in the aftermath of the Milton Hall situation, and what, if any, proactive measures did he implement in SPD to address it?
  3. What is the racial makeup of the department, specifically African Americans, and what is the racial makeup of the department relative to management level or superior officers, specifically African Americans?
  4. Do you think it is important to have officers and superior officers who live in the city that they are policing, and How many current officers and superior officers live in the city?
  5. What percentage of the SPD budget, and dollar amount, is spent on de-escalation training?
  6. What is SPD doing to address calls that stem from people with mental health issues, and what is SPD doing to address officer mental health and substance abuse?
  7. What types of non-lethal force are the officers trained in and what access do they have to these types of resources?
  8. What is the recruiting and training process for new officers?
  9. What is the distribution of personnel across the city? I.e., what is the geographical concentration of police presence, or stated another way, what areas are patrolled most heavily?

As of the date of publication not only has the bond disparity question not been answered, but Chief Ruth has not answered any of our questions. Not. One. 

Unfortunately, despite our best efforts and repeated attempts, Chief Ruth has not even acknowledged receiving them. Further, we have received no comment from Ruth, anyone from Saginaw Police Department, or anyone from the city manager’s office. 

As you can appreciate, this is problematic for several reasons. The most obvious is that the Chief is a public employee, the face of his agency, and the leader of men and woman who have chosen to dedicate their careers to law enforcement. 

Second, this article was supposed to discuss his responses and help educate you on what is actually going on behind the scenes in YOUR police department. But I guess if you don’t want anyone to know what you are up to, then you just ignore them and say nothing. 

Where is the transparency you ask? Where is the accountability you ask? It would seem like the chief’s own officers are asking those same questions. On June 12, 2020, MLIVE reported that, “On May 28, the command union and the Saginaw Police Officers Association voted 46 to 1 in favor of no-confidence in Ruth.” 

And of course, in what seems to be his modus operandi, “Ruth declined to discuss the vote.”

What do you think? Would you like answers to these questions? If you do, let him know. SPD’s number is (989) 759-1289 and Chief Ruth’s e-mail address is rruth@saginaw-mi.com.

This installment by attorney Nathan Collison is part of an ongoing series of reports by Robert Martin, Greg Schmid, and Nathan J. Collison 

City of Saginaw Releases Updated SPD Use of Force Policy

Editor’s Note:  On June 22nd‘The REVIEW’ received the following press release from the City of Saginaw regarding their updated ‘Use of Force’ policy.

The City of Saginaw has released the Saginaw Police Department’s updated use of force policy as nationwide calls for police reform continue following the death of George Floyd.

The updates to the policy include clearer emphasis on when certain use of force tactics are or are not allowed, adding requirements regarding de-escalation of any police-citizen encounter, and highlighting the current requirements for officers’ duty to intervene in and report improper conduct.

“In Saginaw and across the country, George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police has sparked important conversations about race and the role of police in America,” said Tim Morales, City Manager. “In Saginaw, we have been working for years to build a police department that reflects the values of our community and embraces the forward-thinking policies and practices of 21st century policing. By updating and releasing the SPD’s use of force policy we take an immediate and meaningful additional step to improve our practices. I commend the men and women of the Saginaw Police Department for their professionalism and dedication to keeping Saginaw residents safe, and their commitment toward continual improvements in the department.”

The Saginaw Police Department maintains a use of force policy that is consistent with current national and legal standards. It is periodically reviewed by SPD command staff and the city attorney to ensure it remains in proper form. The policy takes into consideration a use of force continuum developed by the National Institute of Justice and contains guidelines as to how much force may be used against a resisting subject in a given situation. 

SPD Officers receive consistent training and understand that they are only allowed to use a level of force that is objectively reasonable to bring an incident under control. Actions such as those taken by the officers in Minneapolis are not contemplated by any policy of the Saginaw Police Department. 

To view a copy of the Saginaw Police Department’s use of force policy, visit https://www.saginaw-mi.com/pdfs/New-PP-01-Response-to-Resistance.pdf

“The focus of the Saginaw Police Department has been about building personal relationships, being proactive in addressing community concerns and working with partners to innovate new approaches to police work,” said Robert Ruth, Saginaw Police Chief. “The City of Saginaw remains committed to diligently addressing how we handle citizens and taking steps to improve community relations.”

In recent years, the City has made major investments in equipment and technology upgrades aimed at increasing police transparency and accountability, and improving safety for both residents and police officers. These include body-worn cameras for every patrol officer, and outfitting patrol cars with high definition in-car camera systems.

The City continues to renovate the station headquarters located at 612 Federal Avenue with the latest technology to improve safety and transparency.

“Cities should not wait for tragedy to happen to make changes that improve transparency, safety, and accountability,” said Chief Ruth.“The Saginaw Police Department will maintain its ongoing commitment to reevaluate our policies and programs, and introduce new initiatives as needed.”

For more information, contact the City Manager’s Office at (989)759-1403.

 

 

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