Snyder signs law: Officers need license, not certification, to do police work

After years of work by lawmakers and a recent WZZM 13 Watchdog investigation, Gov. Rick Snyder today signed into law a package of bills to update the standards for our police officers.

DIMONDALE, MICH. - Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on Tuesday signed into law legislation to make sure people who work as law enforcement officers have licenses to do police functions -- not just certificates.

Back in February, the WZZM 13 Watchdog team investigated a questionable situation involving a reserve officer in the town of Grant in Newaygo County. We found reserve officer Lt. Jim Fragale was allowed to write 144 speeding tickets to drivers during the span of 18 months.

At the time of our investigation, city leaders in Grant believed Fragale had the right to do traffic patrol because he was radar certified, even though he wasn't licensed to be a police officer.

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"He has to be trained to operate that radar he's using and he's been through the class, so he's certified to use the radar," said Grant Police Chief Bob Mendham back in February.

Now the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards, or MCOLES, will have the power to set the minimum guidelines for licensed police officers and the maximum guidelines for what a reserve officer can do.  It's expected reserve officers won't be allowed to do traffic enforcement.

"In the end, the product that will come out will alleviate any misuse you might say or maybe somebody not giving enough attention to standards, and I think it will resolve those issues," MCOLES Executive Director David Harvey said.

Harvey told us this winter he would never allow an officer to be put into a difficult situation, such as a traffic stop, without full training.

"We would not approve them being out there," Harvey said. "Reserve officers who are not trained MCOLES, licensed police officers and have not been sworn by an agency and given full authority as a police officer in a jurisdiction are essentially just a citizen."

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, says the legislation was much-needed to try to rebuild credibility for police officers in this state. She points to a case in Van Buren County where an officer was convicted of selling drugs but did not lose his license.

"Right now it's been up to every jurisdiction deciding what those standards are so the new legislation really codifies and brings in uniform standards for police officers," Schuitmaker said.

Snyder not only signed the legislation into effect, he also signed an executive directive asking MCOLES to report to him what can be done by law enforcement officers to improve community relationships and better communicate with the public. 

"It's good to have more standards and have it be applicable across the board getting consistency, certainty and higher standards is a good thing in situations like this," Snyder said.

In February, Harvey directed MCOLES leaders to investigate the situation in Grant but found, by the old standards, he couldn't take action to punish the city for having the reserve write the tickets.

This winter, we were told by Grant's city leaders Fragale is no longer doing traffic enforcement.  

(© 2016 WZZM)


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