Grand Traverse Sheriff verbally commits to more implicit bias training after demands from activists

Jul 1, 2020

Several members of The Northern Michigan Anti-Racism Task Force at a press conference Wednesday.
Credit Max Johnston / Interlochen Public Radio

The Grand Traverse County Sheriff says his officers will undergo more implicit bias training after the killing of George Floyd.

The training was one of 10 demands made to local officials by The Northern Michigan Anti-Racism Task Force.

Sheriff Tom Bensley says his office will research the logistics of training and outfitting his officers with body cameras, which he says they currently don’t use.

“There are benefits to body cameras, but there’s a lot of pitfalls too,” Bensley said last week. “So we’re trying to ferret out those issues going forward.”

County Sheriff officers already take some implicit-bias training, but Courtney Wiggins, one of the leaders of the recently-formed Northern Michigan Anti-Racism Task Force, says that isn’t enough.

“Implicit bias is something that is ingrained, and it’s going to take much longer than a three hour course [to get rid of it],” she said.

The Task Force is asking for annual, mandatory training for all employees of the Sheriff’s department. The task force also wants input on choosing the training program.

The Task Force gave 10 policy demands to city and county officials in June.

In addition to more cameras for local law enforcement, they are demanding that the Sheriff’s office stop cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, among others.

Bensley and several task force members met Wednesday, and both said it was a productive meeting. Task force members say they hope to address the rest of their demands in future meetings.

“This is just the beginning of the dialogue with law enforcement and really with the community,” Wiggins said. “We cannot do this without everyone’s involvement.”

The group has also gotten the Traverse City Commission to consider outfitting city police with body cameras. The commission will vote on that proposal later this month.