In an email sent to the WMU community on June 18, WMU Department of Safety Police Chief Scott Merlo expressed his outrage with the murder of George Floyd. He said anyone supporting the Minneapolis police officers’ actions should resign.
“Western Michigan University Public Safety officers were not only outraged, but also thoroughly appalled, by the actions of four now-former Minneapolis police officers in their treatment of George Floyd," Merlo said. "Our anger was immediate and it has only grown since Mr. Floyd’s tragic death. There is nothing anyone can say to justify the actions of these former officers. We fervently believe that any members of law enforcement who attempt to justify how they acted should immediately turn in their badges and resign.”
The email went on to say the department promises not to discriminate against anyone based on race.
“Serving as police officers has been an honor and a privilege over the decades, and while we personally cannot know the pain experienced by members of the African American community and persons of color,” Merlo said. “We, and all of WMU DPS, can and will promise to treat all individuals who we serve with respect and offer fair and equitable treatment.”
The email mentioned that there have been a number of people that have asked what changes can be made to DPS moving forward.
“To be honest, we do not have all of the answers. What we do know is that we continuously work to improve the way we serve our community. Our mission and commitment to our students, staff and faculty will not change,” Merlo said. “We strongly believe that those we serve must be part of the law enforcement and crime prevention process and that we cannot improve our efforts without collaboration and contributions from all parts of our campus community.”
Merlo went on to say that everyone has the right to live in a safe and crime free environment.
Merlo emphasized the need to live up to the departments highest ethical and professional standards. This includes implementing best police practices, encouraging accountability and reflecting the values of a global university and the need to continue to strengthen relationship within the community by staying true to the values of integrity, professionalism and service.
The email goes on to say that DPS began the process of earning law enforcement accreditation through the Michigan Law Enforcement Accreditation Commission.
“By completing this rigorous assessment in the fall of 2020, we will have met more than 100 professional standards based on legal precedence and best practices,” Merlo said. “To maintain our accreditation, we must complete regular training on de-escalation techniques and implicit bias. Our officers have already received training in these areas, but this important requirement of the accreditation process will ensure we maintain our focus on the topics.”
Merlo mentioned the department participation in the FBI’s National Use of Force Data Collection which provides information on use of force situations. The department has had no use of force incidents and will do everything it can to keep it that way.
Merlo mentioned the departments philosophy which is based on a community policing model.
“Engagement is first because it is our priority,” Merlo said. “We strongly believe in the importance of communication and building relationships and trust; it is our first line of service. We believe our actions and programs have proven this to be true. However, it does not mean we cannot improve, and we will continually strive to do so.”
In addition to engagement, the philosophy also includes education and enforcement.
Merlo went on to ask for help from the WMU community on how the department can work with the campus community to better serve it. He invites people to share their thoughts.