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Ken Braun- Republicans Should Treat Swat Transparency As They Did School Transparency


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3ma website wont let me link this article...  it's on mlive

Ken Braun: Republicans should treat SWAT transparency as they did school transparency

About a decade ago, politicians on the Left and Right latched on to the laudable principle of greater government transparency. While the original letter of the law in Michigan's Freedom of Information Act means citizens must fill out a form to find out how their money is being spent, transparency advocates have pointed out the spirit of the law means governments should make public information as public as possible. In an era of 24/7/365 access to data on the Internet, it is not acceptable to hide important information about how governments operate behind a requirement for FOIA requests and fees.

It is difficult to find a politician who will argue against the principle of transparency. But asking them to put that principle into practice can fail if they wish to protect their favorite corner of state power from citizen scrutiny. When a politician is confronted with a bill to require more transparency from schools or police departments it shouldn’t matter whether the person is a Democrat or a Republican, but it often does.

For example, Republicans were the initiators of the now routine requirement that K-12 school districts post basic financial details on their websites, including collective bargaining agreements, salary information, and much more. The notion of increasing transparency for public schools ran into both Democratic reluctance and even resistance. Proposals to enhance this form of reporting were common during Gov. Granholm's eight years in office, yet never became priorities on her "to do" list.

Republican Rep. Tom McMillin of Rochester Hills was an early champion of school transparency and applies the principle to the police departments as well. His 'SWAT Team Reporting Act' would require every department with a SWAT team to submit a twice-yearly report to the Attorney General, detailing the reasons for each raid, arrests made, items seized, and any violence that takes place. The AG would then be required to collect the data and submit a public report to the Office of the Governor, the Legislature and police departments. This is modeled on a Maryland law, and recommended by a recent ACLU report that details serious concerns about potential overuse and abuse of maximum police force.

For those who believe in the principle of transparency above politics, the McMillin bill should be an easy proposal to support. But during a hearing on the bill last week, the Michigan Sheriffs' Association and the Michigan Association of Counties showed up to oppose it, and it was Republicans on the committee who showed the most opposition.

McMillin was repeatedly asked to provide information regarding how often SWAT weapons and tactics were used, how frequently raids were conducted for certain reasons, whether warrants were valid, and so forth. Unable to understand the bill before them was asking for the statistical compiling of this very information, most the Republicans behaved as if McMillin’s inability to provide it was evidence that collecting it was unnecessary.

Only Republican Rep. Mike Callton of Nashville and Democrats on the committee spoke up to defend the principle that transparency should be applied without playing favorites.

Attorney General Bill Schuette has spent much of this year dedicating office resources to a very public investigation of propane dealers for alleged price gouging. As he would be the point person for collecting the SWAT information, the AG should make his opinion of the McMillin bill known to fellow Republicans. A House Fiscal Agency analysis says implementing it would cost his office just $60,000 per year. Certainly public scrutiny of policing should be as important as public scrutiny of propane.

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