Washtenaw Co. Sheriff on the need for de-escalation, anti-bias training, and cultural change | Michigan Radio
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Washtenaw Co. Sheriff on the need for de-escalation, anti-bias training, and cultural change

Jun 4, 2020

Protests sparked by the death of George Floyd have erupted across the state. We talked with Washtenaw Co. Sheriff Jerry Clayton about challenges why it can be hard for police departments to pivot to de-escalation.
Credit Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

Thursday the Michigan State Senate unanimously passed reforms for police training. While the bill in question, proposed by Ann Arbor-area Senator Jeff Irwin, pre-dated the death of George Floyd, the debate was undoubtedly informed by protests against police use of force in several Michigan cities. 

Jerry Clayton is the sheriff of Washtenaw County. We've spoken to him in the past about police training methods to reduce violence, and today we invited him to reopen the conversation. Clayton said that while different states may have slightly different versions of subject control and use of force continuum, Washtenaw County’s current training system is different from his own experience in police academy.

“The basic assumption was, the quicker you got in, the quicker you could establish control, the safer everybody was gonna be and we could accomplish our lawful objective,” Clayton said. “Now what we're learning is, 'Wait a minute. Speed does not equate to efficiency.’”

Clayton said part of the new training requires officers to attempt to de-escalate a situation as long as it is safe to do so. The training also highlights the distinction between subject control and use of force. He explained that while all force is an attempt at control, not all control tactics are forceful. 

“My presence, how I talk to you, all those are opportunities for me to get compliance and to take care of a lawful objector,” Clayton said. 

However, he said, even the best training won’t end violent interactions completely. One of the incidents that captured public attention last month was a video of a Washtenaw County deputy punching Sha’Teina Grady El, a young black woman who was refusing to leave the scene of a shooting in Ypsilanti Township’s Apple Ridge neighborhood. According to Clayton, the deputy was put on administrative leave, and an investigation is currently underway. 

“I could never say to a resident of Washtenaw County, 'You'll never have a bad experience with one of our deputies,’” Clayton said. “I'm doing everything to ensure that you don't, and if you do, we will hold that person accountable for what they did.”

Clayton said part of what makes eliminating police brutality so difficult is that it requires more than legislation. In order to completely prevent violent incidents, he said, our entire culture would need to change. He said he hopes to use his position to facilitate that change as much as possible.

“I have experienced this world for 55 years as an African American male,” Clayton said. “...That experience has really motivated me to try to create an organization where we're not perpetuating this cycle of discrimination that has existed for over four hundred years.”

This post was written by production assistant Lia Baldori.