Michigan State Police is a long way from true diversity, critics say

By: - December 10, 2018 11:09 am

Current MSP recruiting class | Michigan State Police photo

Only two of the current Michigan State Police 128-member training class — the first in several years — call Detroit home.

What’s more: only one of them is a person of color.  

The NAACP argues that is a clear indication the agency continues to lack ethnic and gender diversity, cultural sensitivity and understanding — and thus needs a complete overhaul.

Wendell Anthony

“We believe with a new [Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer] administration coming in, there is an opportunity now for the governor [Gov. Rick Snyder] to make some appointments and some changes in that department that speak to the issues and communities across the state, particularly communities of color,” said the Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit Branch NAACP. “We have a new opportunity to have a new beginning.”

In order for police to build better relationships with communities of color, many critics believe departments need to employ more African-American, Latino and Asian officers. They believe the MSP needs to have more troopers from Detroit, the state’s most populous city.

“They have to recruit and hire minorities,” said civil rights attorney Leonard Mungo.

The Detroit Branch NAACP last year publicly denounced the MSP for its lack of diversity:  

“The current state of the Michigan State Police is one that has gone backwards since 1993. It was operating under a consent decree from the federal government,” the branch wrote. “We have moved from 12.5 percent in minorities in 1993 to 6.4 percent in 2017. These numbers reflect the current downward spiral in a lack of hiring of African-Americans, Latinos, women, and others.

“It is particularly disturbing when African-Americans make up 14.2 percent of Michigan’s population, and out of 36 Michigan State Police officers, with a rank of inspector or higher, only one — or less than 3 percent — are African-American.”

Roosevelt Lawrence is a retired Detroit police lieutenant and author of “Blacks Who Wore Blue,” a book chronicling the history of African-Americans in the Detroit Police Department. He said he’s “saddened” that people of color are only 6 percent of Michigan State Police’s forces.

“There is a lack of interest and energy coming from the state police in terms of recruiting and seeking potential candidates who would diversify that department,” Lawrence told the Advance.

Detroit | Susan J. Demas

Detroit has about 673,000 residents. Michigan has 9.9 million residents overall. The Motor City composes about 7 percent of the state’s population, but represents less than 2 percent of the new MSP training class.

The class has two members from Detroit, both men. One is white and one is African-American. There are no black, Latino or Asian women from Detroit in the current training class. 

“It’s not acceptable,” says state Rep.-elect Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit), a retired Wayne County Sheriff deputy who will take office on Jan. 1. “MSP doesn’t do a great job with outreach to the black community.”

Recruits who successfully complete training are expected to graduate in April 2019.

‘Anti-American degenerates’

Since 2017, MSP and Detroit NAACP officials have met and discussed the branch’s concerns about diversity. But Anthony says not enough has been done to address the problem.

MSP officials counter that the department has made strides. It reports, for example, that the current class of trainees has 23 women and 24 individuals who identify as a racial minority.

Kriste Kibbey Etue

“At a time when police agencies nationwide are struggling to find qualified candidates, we have worked extremely hard to improve our recruiting and selection process to attract the most qualified women and men who best reflect the communities we serve,” said MSP Director Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue.

In 2017, Etue, the first female director of the MSP, was docked five days’ pay for violating the department’s social media policy. On Facebook, she described NFL players who sat or kneeled during the pre-game national anthem to protest police brutality as “anti-American degenerates.”

Anthony and Mungo both believe that Etue can’t effectively led the department and a change in leadership is need at MSP.

Gretchen Whitmer

“[Etue] has lost credibility. She needs to make room for someone else,” Mungo told the Advance.

Whitmer is expected to name a new MSP director, but she has not announced cabinet posts yet.

“A diverse range of candidates have applied and are being considered across the state departments and the individuals appointed by the governor-elect will speak to her commitment to a diverse cabinet,” said Whitmer transition team spokeswoman Michelle Grinnell.

Racial discrimination suit

Meanwhile, MSP and other state law enforcement agencies are being challenged in court. In March 2017, a case was filed in Wayne County Circuit Court by Carlos Bell, an African-American who argues that he suffered race discrimination related to the entry-level civil service examination.

Bell, who applied to work as a state conservation officer, seeks monetary damages. Since that time, a class-action certification has been granted by the court. The suit involves individuals who took the examination in 2014.

Leonard Mungo

Mungo is Bell’s attorney. He called the examination “culturally biased” and argues that African-American applicants for several state law enforcement agencies are being systematically eliminated from the hiring pool. The job classifications outlined in the lawsuit include state police trooper, motor carrier officer and state properties security officer.

“The Michigan State Police have a duty and responsibility to operate with integrity and a respect for law for all Michiganders,” the Detroit NAACP wrote last year. “This is a very serious hearing, and these are very serious matters that confront our community and our state. All of us must be concerned about their resolution. We have to work as a community for the transformation from a culture that restricts, to one that invites diversity and appreciation for all people.”

Color barrier broken in 1967

The Michigan State Police hired its first black trooper after civil disturbance rocked Detroit. Jack Hall became Michigan’s first black Michigan State Police officer in August 1967.

Prior to his service as a trooper, Hall had been a Benton Harbor police officer for five years and had completed one year of studies at Lake Michigan Junior College.

“Maybe this will help to kill the myth that Negroes can’t get on the State Police force,” MSP Director Col. Frederick Davids declared at the time.

“It proves that anyone with the desire can make it,” Hall, then 26, said just after being sworn in, the culmination of several months of training. “Ever since I was a kid, I’ve admired policemen.”

Hall’s hiring came after a straight, no chaser-styled state senator named Coleman A. Young declared that MSP was “dragging its feet” when it came to hiring blacks. Young went on to be the first African-American mayor of Detroit. His son, Coleman Young II, currently represents Detroit in the Michigan Senate.

In 1975, the U.S. Justice Department sued the MSP, charging that it discriminated against minorities and women. That year, only 25 of the MSP’s 2,007 troopers were black.

MSP: ‘We’re making strides’

Today, the MSP has 2,032 troopers. About 19 percent of the force are people of color and women. Women alone compose 9.5 percent of the force; 6.1 percent are African American.

Inspector Amy Dehner, who heads MSP’s recruiting and selection division and leads its effort toward equality and inclusion, points out that the agency revamped its civil service entry examination in 2014 and also has reached out to many organizations to help identify potential candidates.

Those groups include the nonprofit Black Caucus Foundation of Michigan, headed by former Michigan House members Alma Stallworth and Keith Stallworth, as well as the Arab-American Chamber of Commerce in metro Detroit.

MSP went many years without a training class because of budget constraints. Dehner said there is more work to do when it comes to improving ethnic, racial and gender diversity.

“This is the first of what we hope is many classes that are this reflective of the population of Michigan,” Dehner said. “But it’s taken six or seven years to get to this point that we could put a diverse population in seats.”

Sherry Gay-Dagnogo

Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit) is executive vice president the of Michigan Legislative Black Caucus. She has met with Etue and other officials at MSP and has offered suggestions, such as visiting historically black colleges and universities and partnering with Boys Scout troops to better embrace cultural and gender diversity.

She said that MSP is part of a larger problem in Michigan government and she would like to see systemic change.

“The situation at MSP is a microcosm of the rest of the state,” said Gay-Dagnogo. “We’ve seen a lack of diversity at a number of departments.”

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.