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Creating a Community Policing Commission: Thoughts on Process and Content

After the events in Ferguson, national attention turned to how to address racial disparities and excessive force in policing. After the death of Aura Rosser in Ann Arbor local attention to the issue increased.

One of the proposed tools to address these concerns is the creation of a community-based commission that can review and influence the police department. For years the City of Ann Arbor has been moving toward setting up a community-based commission to review and advise on policing practices. We have the 2016 Human Rights Commission report, the recent Hillard Heintze report, and many community statements on the issue.

Done right, a community board established to review the City of Ann Arbor Police Department could be a fulcrum to leverage continuing improvements in training, policies, practices, and strategy. Done poorly it risks providing PR cover without leading to actual improvements in policing.

We need to get this right.

To that end, here are some of my thoughts as they stand now (they are subject to change, so please let me know what you agree or disagree with). I separate these into considerations of process and content

Getting the process right

There are a lot of details to work out about the final goals, composition, and powers of a commission.

On Monday, February 5, City Council will consider a Resolution Creating an Advisory Task Force to Make Recommendations Regarding the Roles and Responsibilities of a Community Policing Commission. Under this resolution the task force would:

  • Have voting members of the task force drawn entirely from residents.
  • Have its composition created with input from the Human Rights Commission, Neutral Zone, and other appropriate community stakeholders.
  • Make a recommendation outlining the roles and responsibilities of a proposed Community Policing Commission.

My hope and intent is that this process in inclusive and transparent:

  • Inclusive: the task force should include a broad cross section of the community with a particular attention to communities most vulnerable — people of color, youth, LGBTQ, formerly incarcerated individuals, immigrants, etc.
  • Transparent: The proceedings of the task force, and the subsequent implementation of the recommendations, should be clear and transparent to the public.

One of the biggest challenges of the task force will be to find a process that reconciles competing valid interests in a way that is legally sould. For example, is is a valid goal that the commission have a high level of access to information about police incidents and policies. It is also an important goal to protect community members’ privacy–especially youth and people not convicted of a crime. The task force will have to find a way to thread the needle between these two valid concerns in a way that complies with relevant laws and regulations.

The process is important, but it is the means, not the end of creating a commission that can meaningfully improve policing practices. While it will be up to the task force to make final recommendations, here are my initial thoughts on the charge of the commission.

Getting the content right

I believe a successful police commission should:

    • Constructively engage a variety of voices in the community and law enforcement: A This process should pay special attention to including the voices of those most vulnerable to negative police interactions and least likely to be listened to (people of color, undocumented immigrants, people formerly incarcerated, etc).
    • Create understanding: The commission needs to create a setting in which officers can hear, understand, and learn from the needs community members, and where community members can hear, understand, and learn from the perspective of law enforcement. I’m not saying they always will always agree, and we need to keep in mind the power imbalance here, but this understanding is vital.
    • Produce change: The commission produces concrete and actionable steps to improve equity and public safety in Ann Arbor. The fundamental measure of the commission’s success is that the AAPD improves its policing practice.  
    • Not limit public safety to law enforcement. The commission recognizes that police are not the only tool for providing public safety and looks holistically at other to improve public safety such as mental health and substance abuse treatment, affordable housing, employment access, etc.
    • Recognize that individual, institutional, and systemic racism affect all areas of society–including policing. To effectively address concerns about racially disparate outcomes in policing the commission must a deep understanding and commitment to address the ways that racism affects society through such means as:
      • Individual biases (even among people with a deep commitment to equity),
      • A history of government and corporate racial discrimination, and
      • Current policies that are race-neutral on their face but have racially disparate outcomes (such as banning affirmative action but allowing legacy preferences in college recruitment that disproportionately benefit white applicants).
    • Forge agreement around actionable solutions. The commission has broad enough participation and deep enough deliberation so that, in most cases, the solutions worked out in the commission easily move through to implementation. The Human Rights Commission’s work to revise our Non Discrimination Ordinance is a good example of this. The commission members did the hard work to sort through the details to ensure that the ordinance that came forward had the full support of Council and staff and sailed through the approval process. In contrast, the Human Rights Commission’s recommendation of an ordinance limiting police video surveillance failed at Council as it lacked the support of the police chief.
    • Have the resources to succeed: The commission has access to sufficient information, training, and staff support to effectively review and impact police strategy, training, policies, and procedures.
    • Involve the broader community: If the commission’s engagement is limited to the handful of community members on the body it is a failure. To be effective the commission relationship building, information gathering, and education process must extend into the entire  community–especially into those parts of our community where the risk of negative police interactions is highest.
    • Review past police actions with an eye for improving future decisions. The largest area of debate is how the commission should review police behavior. Some argue that the commission should have the power to directly affect disciplinary decision. I find the frameworks of a  morbidity and mortality (M&M) conference or blameless post mortem to be most promising. Here the focus is creating the environment that allows for a candid and honest exploration of how an event could have been handled differently and what structural dynamics and personal decisions contributed to a negative outcome. I believe a disciplinary review is unlikely to generate the learnings necessary to change future behaviors, as the question, “Was there misconduct?” shifts the discussion to the police decisions rather than the experiences of all parties. A disciplinary hearing also generates a defensiveness that impedes honest and frank discussions of outcomes and alternatives. Many of the complaints that community members have about police interactions are about the decisions an officer makes within the range of actions an officer is permitted to take — they are not about violations of the law or departmental policy. In these cases a disciplinary review that finds no misconduct will likely not address the opportunity to learn from the encounter; improve training, policy, and procedure; and to address the needs of the people unhappy with the event. (There may be a role for the commission to review the disciplinary process to ensure that it is rigorous and fair, but that is different from making disciplinary decisions in individual cases.)
    • Self-reflect and improve: I don’t think we will get this right on the first try, so just as the commission reflects on and seeks to improve police practices, it should also reflect on and seek to improve its own practices.

There are also many important details that still need to get worked out such as composition, nomination process, and ensuring independence. One of the thorniest details will be balancing the commission’s access to information with the need to protect privacy — especially for minors and people not convicted of a crime. On the one hand, the commission needs a high level of access to information about policy and specific police cases to do their jobs. On the other hand, there is a need to safeguard an individual’s privacy as well as legal mandates that may limit the distribution of information to the commission.

We also need to recognize that while the commission should actively share results and key findings with the public, many of their deliberations will need to be in closed session. I know this is a controversial one. In Ann Arbor we (rightly) place a high value on public bodies operating in the public eye. But the fastest way to sabotage efforts to create an environment where officers can engage in a candid conversation about how they could have made different choices in a situation is to turn it into a public interrogation. The fastest way to undermine public engagement with the commission is for their history of police contact to be discussed openly in a public session in front of the press and community television cameras.

We have an opportunity here to create a framework that meaningfully engages voices from across the community and produces meaningful improvements in police practices–and I believe there is broad agreement on many of the core points. Let’s build on this broad agreement and establish a commission that can make a difference in our community. No, it won’t be perfect to start, but we can continue to improve on it as we move forward. And together we can make a safer, more equitable community.

Taking a knee

Back in high school football, when my coach wanted to make sure we were listening and not goofing off he’d tell us to “take a knee.”

If someone was badly hurt on a play and we wanted to show respect and a concern while he was attended to we would also “take a knee.”

I can’t speak to what is in each person’s heart, but for me to “take a knee” is an act of attention, of concern, and of respect. And it is in that spirit that I take a knee at tonight’s City Council meeting: out of respect for the aspiration that we be a nation “with liberty and justice for all,” with full attention that we fall short of that ideal in many ways, and with humble dedication to continue to work that the promise of the pledge may be fulfilled.

It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union. And we formed it, not to give the blessings of liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people – women as well as men.
-Susan B. Anthony


Since the story on this broke I’ve been getting a lot of feedback and reflecting more on the decision.

Veterans for Peace Statement of Support

The Utah Phillips – J. David Singer Chapter 93 or Veterans for Peace issued this Vets Statement of Support. They write:

to question people’s patriotism and use smear tactics to quiet them is in direct contradiction to the spirit of the right to freedom of expression. These acts of protest are political acts to register discontent with the actions of our government. It is a nonviolent act that demands positive change for a better future for all of us. It is exactly the kind of speech the First Amendment was designed to protect and as veterans we applaud the use of these rights for the cause of equality and justice; rights and ideals that we are told we served to defend.

Chuck, we defend your freedom to express your beliefs during the Pledge of Allegiance, especially since you say kneeling for the Pledge “. . . for me it was with the same spirit of respect as kneeling in prayer”. We will continue to support you, and work with you to bring attention to injustice.

Apology for offense

As I wrote above, my intent was not to offend of dishonor those who have sacrificed for the country, whether police, military, or civilians. Though those were my intentions, it is clear that some have felt disrespected, and for that I apologize.

What is respect

When someone gets down on one knee to make a marriage proposal, is that a sign of disrespect?

The work before us

The pledge of allegiance proclaims “liberty and justice for all.”  This is a noble aspiration, but one we have not yet reached. Here in Washtenaw County we are “in the bottom 8 percent for upward mobility for children in whose parents fall into the bottom 25 percent of earners nationwide. ” We are the eighth most economically segregated metropolitan region in the country.  Nationally drug use rates do not vary significantly by race, but African-Americans are six times more likely to be imprisoned for drug charges than whites. 

Listening to King

This experience has led me to re-read Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. Here are a few key excerpts, but I encourage you to read it in full.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations.


You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.

Don’t Concentrate on the Finger

In Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee says “It is like a finger-, pointing a way to the moon. don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.”

The practice of taking a knee is intended to be a finger pointing to the unfinished promises of American ideals and to catalyze a deeper engagement in how we can be “the land of the free” and have “liberty and justice for all.”

However, the media coverage has focused on the tactic,  not the deeper issues. Rather than looking at the moon, people have focused on the finger.

As I reflect on the feedback I’ve received after taking a knee, I see no indication that anyone new is addressing the root issues of racism and economic injustice based on my actions. So, while I still feel the action was an ethical action to take, I do wonder if it was a tactically sound action.

In part my ambivalence comes from reflecting on the difference between recent symbolic acts of protest versus the direct interventions in the King-era civil rights movement. The Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Greensboro sit ins, the Selma voting rights activities were direct interventions at the site of oppression.

Also, my ambivalence is due to the different opportunities that I have compared to the NFL protesters. As an athlete, the players’ bodies are on-screen but their words about social issues rarely get attention, and they have little direct access to making public policy. In this setting, the decision to take a knee is their best opportunity to bring attention to their concerns. This is different from my role as an elected official where, in my own small way, I have the opportunity to use policy tools to address these concerns.


Some of the vitriolic comments I have received have accused me of being a socialist, which is amusing since the pledge itself was written by a socialist.

What is meant vs what is heard

For me, my decision to take a knee hinged on the question, “Can I take this posture in an attitude of respect for the ideals the flag represents and those who have sacrificed for those ideals.” When I reflected on what the posture of taking a knee means to me, I determined that I could, and I tried to convey that.

Despite these efforts, may people did not hear that nuance.

Effective communication depends on both the sender and receiver. Both have a duty to consider what is intended and how it is received.

It reminds me in some ways of the discussion on the Confederate flag. The argument has often been two sides entrenched in a narrative of “this is what it means to me” and not engaged in a question of what the impact of the symbol or its removal is on others.

In closing

I give Susan B. Anthony the closing words:

Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform. Those who are really in earnest must be willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathy with despised and persecuted ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences…

Fall 2017 Office Hours

What’s on your mind regarding Ann Arbor City Government issues?

Feel free to stop by one of my upcoming “Chat with Chuck” office hours:

  • Monday, September 18, 9:30-10:30 a.m., Mighty Good Coffee, 217 N. Main
  • Monday, October 30, 9:30-10:30 a.m., Avalon Cafe, 120 E. Liberty
  • Monday, November 27, 9:30-10:30 a.m., Mighty Good Coffee, 217 N. Main.

Those dates don’t work for you? You can always email me at [email protected] or call 734-972-8304.

Making the Call on the Library Lot

As I wrestled with the vote on Monday, for me it came down to affordable housing. As I reviewed the list of projects in the pipeline that might need money from the affordable housing fund (which is currently unfunded), I asked myself, “If I say ‘no’ to this sale and the $5 million for affordable housing, am I willing to call the people on the housing waitlist and explain to them why I voted to turn down money that would have allowed us to house them?” The issue was more complex than that, but this single question more than anything led to my vote. Continue reading

Winter 2017 Office Hours

What’s on your mind regarding Ann Arbor City Government issues?

Feel free to stop by one of my upcoming “Chat with Chuck” office hours:

  • Monday, January 30, 9:30-10:30 a.m., Mighty Good Coffee, 217 N. Main
  • Monday, February Feb 27, 9:30-10:30 a.m., Avalon Cafe, 120 E. Liberty
  • Monday, February March 27, 9:30-10:30 a.m., Mighty Good Coffee, 217 N. Main.

Those dates don’t work for you? You can always email me at [email protected] or call 734-972-8304.

Town Hall Meeting on Discovery of Dioxane in Shallow Groundwater Sampling

This Thursday October 27, 7-9 p.m.
Eberwhite Elementary School
800 Soule Blvd.


Please attend a community Town Hall meeting to learn about the results of the Shallow Groundwater testing study which discovered trace amounts of 1,4 Dioxane in shallow groundwater on the west side of Ann Arbor. The purpose of the meeting is to help residents understand what the shallow groundwater test was, what the results are and what they mean, as well as the risks associated to the findings.


The meeting will also provide an update on the broader context of Pall/Gelman/Danaher dioxane plume efforts, including a status update on changing exposure standards for dioxane, the impacts of those changes on cleanup and the status of the renewed public engagement effort.

Scheduled and Confirmed Speakers:

  • Michigan Department of Health and Human Services
  • Washtenaw County Health Department
  • Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality
  • State Representative Jeff Irwin
  • Mayor Christopher Taylor
  • Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners chair Felicia Brabec

Questions and Inquires may be directed to Councilmember Chuck Warpehoski at [email protected] or 734-972-8304, Councilmember Chip Smith at [email protected] or 734-709-2022 or Representative Jeff Irwin at [email protected] or 517-373-2577

Please help spread the word by printing and distributing the flyer or sharing the Facebook post.

Summer/Fall 2016 “Chat with Chuck” Office Hours

What’s on your mind? You can always email me at [email protected] or call 734-972-8304. In addition I’ve scheduled the following “Chat with Chuck” office hours:

  • Tuesday, August 9, 4:00-6:00pm, Wolverine State Brewing Company, 2019 W. Stadium NOTE NEW TIME
  • Wednesday, September 14, 9:30-10:30am, Mighty Good Coffee, 217 N Main St
  • Monday, October 24, 4:00-6:00 p.m., Glass House Brewery, 2350 W Liberty St,
  • Monday, November 14, 9:30-10:30 a.m., RoosRoast Downtown, 117 E Liberty St.

A Downtown Park: Should we go it alone?

On the August 4, 2016 City Council meeting we will be asked to put on a resolution to ask the voters to approve a City Charter amendment to dedicate the entire of the Library Lot to be city-owned in perpetuity. The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that the entire of the site is developed as a park rather than creating a public-private partnership to develop part of the site as a mixed-use commercial building and part of the site as a park.

I want to see a park developed on Fifth Avenue by the Library, and I believe the best way to do that is in partnership with a developer who can build, manage, and program the site rather as part of a mixed-use development on the Library Lane Lot. The alternative of having the City build, maintain, and program the site would be extremely costly and at the expense of affordable housing, existing neighborhood parks, and other key services.

The only scenario in which I would be willing to choose a “go it alone” approach to the parcel is there was also a funding source to cover the building, maintenance and programming for the site as well as to cover lost revenue from sale of development rights and lost tax revenue from a building on that site, which I estimate to be a .75 mill property tax.

I believe that the best way to achieve the goal of a downtown park on Fifth Avenue is in partnership with a development that can fund construction, programming, and maintenance.

The City has on numerous occasions taken actions to support a park on the site, such as building a portion of the underground structure to not support a building to encourage a park above the site, studying success factors to identify how to make a downtown park most successful, and voting to dedicate the entire Fifth Avenue street frontage to open space.

Right now, we are negotiating with a developer  to put a building on part of the site and a park on the dedicated park space. While the final details of the park portion are not worked out, initial designs include a water feature, play area, and flexible seating so it can be used as a performance space.

I believe that partnering with a developer in this way is the best way to establish a park without sacrificing our current, neighborhood parks.

When I took office four years ago, the City was just starting to rebound from the great recession. There was tremendous community frustration that the grass wasn’t getting cut in our neighborhood parks. We would like to think those days are behind us, but as fifth ward voters went the first month of the summer with Vets Park Pool closed, I am not so sure. The City-owned pools and ice rinks are due for approximately $10 million in new liners, filters, boilers, etc., which is hard to work into to parks budget of only around $12 million total (going off memory here on the costs, don’t have my notes with me). We’ll get that done, but it highlights how tight the city parks budget is.

At the same time, there are some big requests coming forward to improve and expand our park system. I have been championing the Allen Creek Greenway master plan. If successful, this will help establish a trail with anchor parks along the Allen Creek. This will be a tremendous asset to our City, but also another draw on the already-tight parks budget.

Downtown parks are expensive. According to the Trust for Public Land, the average construction cost for a new urban park is $4.3 million per acre, so at this average the cost to develop a park on the Library Lane site would be $6 million. The Trust also reports that operations costs for urban parks are $200,000-$700,000, with highly programmed parks falling in the $500,000-700,000 range. I believe a park on this site needs to be highly programmed to avoid the behavior problems we see at Liberty Plaza Park on the same block.

So, over ten years it would cost around $10 million just to build, maintain, and program the park—about the same as the cost of the pool and ice rink capital maintenance that is coming due. I am not willing to sacrifice our existing park facilities in our neighborhoods to go it alone for a downtown park.

Not partnering with a developer brings tremendous opportunity costs. If we choose a “go it alone” strategy to develop a public park on the site and refuse to partner with a developer to build, maintain, and program it, we lose more than just the private funding for the park itself. We also lose the estimated $10 million sale price for development rights (half of which would go to affordable housing), as well as an estimated $2 million per year in tax revenue that would fund police, transit, parks, schools, and other core services.

So, a back-of-the-envelope calculation of the total cost of downtown park without a developer partnership is:

  • $10 million lost for sale of development rights
  • $20 million lost tax revenue (to be fair, not all of this would go to the City, but it is still lost revenue for the public good)
  • $5 million to construct
  • $$ million to operate

That’s equivalent to a .75 mill property tax.

There is room to quibble over the numbers. You could argue the actual cost is lower because we could build and maintain the park on the cheap. You could also argue the actual cost is higher because these calculations due not include the impacts of job creation and economic ripple effects.

If voters approved a tax or other viable funding mechanism to cover these costs, I would be willing to take a “go it alone” approach to a park on this site. Without such a dedicated funding source to cover both park costs and opportunity costs, I cannot.

DTE Power Outages in NW Ann Arbor

UPDATE 10/3/2016: At the DTE Open House on this issue earlier this year they had a handout showing their planned maintenance on the affected circuit. I’ve scanned that file and uploaded it.

UPDATE 7/30/2016: Since the initial post I’ve spent a lot more time on the phone with DTE. I’ve confirmed that since 7/26/2016 they’ve had crews in the area assessing the conditions of the equipment and going door-to-door. They have done some spot trimming and equipment upgrades, and the assessment is to help develop a plan to add new equipment, upgrade existing lines, and go through extensive tree trimming. As I understand, the program will be concluded by end of August, possible sooner.

I want to again apologize to everyone on the northwest side of town that has been experiencing too-frequent power outages.

[For those of you who haven’t heard about this, people in the Newport/Wines/Haisley area have had 6-8 outages or brownouts this year, even on days when there has been no storm activity].

I was on the phone a lot with Paul Ganz, the regional government relations representative for DTE, about the situation over the weekend trying to get better action on the issue.

DTE’s explanation of the outages has been that they have been tree limb-related. Many of us have been skeptical of that explanation, so I pressed Paul on it. He promised to send me the field notes from the outages this summer, and he did send along these photos of some of the trees growing in the power lines, so I am working to verify the stated cause of the problem, and I’ll keep you informed what else I find out.

For me, I find the tree limb story more credible as I see these photos where the wires are totally surrounded by trees.

In the meantime, Paul has committed to a large-scale “forensic” trimming of the trees in the area, load re-balancing, and I believe new substations as well. The message I got from him is that they would much rather get ahead of this and deal with it as a preventative maintenance issue than to keep paying weekend and evening overtime to deal with it as an outage. He has promised to get me additional details about timing and scope of that work, and I will pass that along as it becomes available.

Please be advised that when DTE conducts this trimming it will be drastic. They will be cutting down everything within 10 feet of the wires and doing additional work within their 30 foot utility easements. This won’t be pretty, but it’s better than the frequent outages you’ve been experiencing.

In addition, DTE has information about overhead lines and trees:

We’ll keep on this and try to get it resolved.

Vets Pool Update

Vets Park Pool is closed for the start of the season. Here's why.

Vets Park Pool is closed for the start of the season. Here’s why.

Like many families on the west side of town, my kids have been sad that the Vets Park pool isn’t yet open. Bill Meeks, the staffperson in charge of the pool, shared the explanation for the closure below.

As people have discussed the closure, some residents have also raised other concerns about condition at Vets Park Pool. Chip Smith and I will be meeting with staff in early July to discuss these issues, so if you have positive or negative feedback to give on Vets Park Pool overall please let me know. You can email [email protected] or call 734-972-8304.

Here’s the update.

Hello everyone,
I wanted to take this opportunity to address all of you regarding the issues at Vets Pool. I know you are very frustrated with the situation, as am I and my staff. I want to first give you a recap of the pool since I took over in August of 2013.  Continue reading