Our readers know that we’ve been critical of prosecutors over the years. But, a couple of Michigan prosecutors are rocking the boat, and it feels so good!
Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon, perhaps the greatest maverick of them all, announced the other day that her office will no longer pursue certain criminal charges resulting from traffic stops that are not related to public safety. Hallelujah!
What happens is this. Police officers will stop a suspicious motorist for tinted windows, or a defective tail light, or an air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror. You get the picture. But what the cops are really looking for is something more serious. Prosecutor Siemon’s office found, for example, that Black and Hispanic people are significantly more likely to be searched for contraband in situations like this.
So, guess what? While the Black and Hispanic population in Ingham County stands at about 12%, they make up a whopping 41% of those arrested for misdemeanors. It’s even worse for felonies: 54%!
To give credit where credit is due, Prosecutor Siemon isn’t the first to adopt this traffic-stop policy. One step ahead of her was Prosecutor Eli Savit in Washtenaw County. He says his office will not file a possession of contraband charge if that stuff was discovered during one of these sometimes-called "pretext stops."
Well, as you can imagine, the cops are raising hell. Robert Stevenson, Executive Director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, is labeling these steps as a disservice to the community and a “free walk” for criminals.
Prosecutor Siemon explained, in an MLive story: “Those of us who are trying to make changes are saying that we have to admit all the warts, the problems that have existed, some of our own creation. We need to be willing to look at this honestly and make changes.”
She said she believes public officials are trying to what’s right, and she really doesn’t want the new policy to feel like an attack on the police. But that ain’t the way they see it.
Grumbled Stevenson: “The police are in the process of trying to protect their communities, and she’s basically taking a tool away from them. If I were a citizen of Ingham County I would be extremely concerned.”
That is, I guess, unless you happen to be a Black or Hispanic citizen.