Siemon joins prosecutors pledging to not take funding, endorsements from police unions

(Kara Berg, Lansing State Journal)

LANSING — Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon has joined a group of more than 40 prosecutors across the nation who say they will no longer be taking campaign contributions or endorsements from police unions.

Siemon is the only Michigan prosecutor to sign the letter of intent to distance themselves from police unions. The letter the prosecutors signed focuses on destroying any existing or perceived conflicts of interest in their job, and make it clear their interests do not align with those of police unions. 

Siemon is up for reelection this year and is running against Republican George Platsis.

She said in 2016, she did receive support from police and firefighter unions, and was honored to. She said the pledgeisn’t something personal against local departments, but rather her way of acknowledging that in some areas, supporting police unions has led to perceptions of being “closely entangled,” she said. That’s best to avoid while the community works out police and prosecutor accountability issues, she said. 

“It’s not personal to our local police, whom I think by and large do a very good job,” Siemon said in an email. “Campaign endorsements and contributions send a message and create a perception that the endorsed elected official is beholden to that group.

“I believe that it is best if we each perform our respective roles independently so that there is no question that the prosecutor considers all cases with objectivity and careful analysis.”

In the letter, the group of prosecutors say the interests of the police unions do not reflect the interests of the community. Rather, they aim to protect themselves and maintain the “harmful, broken criminal legal system,” according to the letter. 

“As key actors in that system, we cannot cling to the status quo and pretend there are no issues with the way things have been done,” the letter reads. “We recognize now that being on the ‘political payroll’ of police unions is simply inappropriate and unethical.”

The pledges comeas calls for defunding the police sweep the nation. Demands for change in the criminal justice system rose after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis Police officer on Memorial Day. The officer, Derek Chauvin, is charged with Floyd’s murder. 

Experts say unions are one of the biggest reasons police practices have hardly changed in past years. 

Siemon has been outspoken about her intent to make changes in the way the criminal justice system functions. Part of her platform for the 2016 prosecutorial race was reforming the system and addressing racial inequities. 

She’s implemented a policy to offer plea deals to anyone charged with first-degree murder, because she said she does not believe in sentencing someone to life in prison without parole. 

This month, she revamped the department’s policies on watching body camera footage before issuing charges. Prosecutors now must watch any available video before making a decision, except in circumstances like if the suspect is in-custody and they cannot obtain the body camera footage. 

Siemon also earlier this year declined to review an excessive force case from the East Lansing Police Department, instead asking the Attorney General’s office to assign another county prosecutor. The Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office is now reviewing the evidence. No charges have been filed. 

Contact reporter Kara Berg at 517-377-1113 or kberg@lsj.com. Follow her on Twitter @karaberg95

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