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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services

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December 2020 | Volume 13 | Issue 12

Community policing is the approach the Michigan State University Police Department (MSUPD) has taken since the mid-1980s. The MSUPD is dedicated to the philosophy of community-oriented policing despite challenges that may arise. The approach to community policing is consistent with the larger values of the university in cultivating a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion when serving the entire community.

In the past several years, the MSUPD has investigated a number of bias- and racism-related incidents on its campus. Often referred to as hate crimes, these examples are not always legally hate crimes because making hateful comments but not threating to harm an individual or their property in relation to their ethnicity may not fit the legal definition of a hate crime in Michigan. However, that does not mean fear or lack of safety is not felt by the person on the receiving end of such derogatory speech.

In several of the investigations, the incidents were determined to be pranks or bigoted acts but not deemed hate crimes. Some of the incidents include the following:

  • In 2017, a shoelace shaped in the form of a noose was found taped to a student’s residence hall door. After the investigation by the MSUPD and the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE), it was determined the lace had dropped from a box of newly purchased Timberland boots without the knowledge of a student running to catch a bus. The manner in which the wrapped shoelace was packaged resembled a noose.
  • In the fall of 2019, a Halloween prank involving toilet papering students’ doors in a residence hall was viewed as racially insensitive when the African-American student living in one of the impacted rooms viewed the toilet paper as resembling a noose and felt intimidated by the event.
  • Also in 2019, the East Lansing Police Department investigated vandalism that occurred at Hillel, an off-campus MSU Student Jewish Center. MSU President Samuel Stanley, Jr. immediately addressed these issues in a letter to the MSU community.
  • MSU students and community members were further outraged in 2020 when a student visiting the MSU Wharton Center Performing Arts gift shop observed an exhibit of Black dolls hanging from a rack that appeared to be a tree. The historically Black doll leaders were hung from the tree with twine around their necks. This incident gravely affected the community as this was yet another insensitive racially prejudiced incident on the MSU campus. The Wharton Center acknowledged the harm the display had caused and removed it. There were a number of changes made at the Wharton Center moving the university forward regarding the need for more diversity and inclusion throughout MSU. This incident prompted another communication to the community from President Stanley.
  • Also in 2020, the investigation of a university employee for discriminatory and hateful comments posted on his social media page led to his suspension with pay. The employee is no longer with the university.

The MSUPD Inclusion and Anti-Bias Units (IABU) works collaboratively with a number of campus partners within the university and outside organizations through its monthly meetings with Advocates and Leaders for Police and Community Trust (ALPACT) to combat bias. ALPACT comprises community organizations and federal, state, and local law enforcement representatives. Law enforcement and a community representative co-chair the meetings. This group meets to discuss issues that community members want to share with law enforcement; works together to solve issues; and provides educational training to faculty, staff, students, and community members. ALPACT benefits all involved by increasing awareness about the respective areas of focus and fostering stronger relationships with the community, law enforcement, campus, and other stakeholders.

The MSUPD collaborates with numerous offices on campus and in particularly with the MSU Residence Education and Housing Services department (REHS), the OIE, the Office of Civil Rights, and the MSU Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives. The harmonious relationship among these offices is critical to making sure MSU students, faculty, and staff have the resources they need if they encounter an act of discrimination that violates the university’s Anti-Discrimination Policy (ADP).

When students report a bias or discriminatory incident to a REHS staff member, REHS shares the incident with MSUPD IABU to address it if necessary. The MSUPD handles all crimes including reports of ethnic intimidation, injury to someone’s person, or damage to property. All reports are forwarded to the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office to determine charges, if any.

The MSUPD has a Community Outreach Unit that includes a Community Care Unit, a social worker, the IABU, and Community Policing Unit. Having these units allows the department to collaborate with more offices on campus and offer more diversity training to educate the students, faculty, and staff through dialogue about diversity.

Community policing is crucial to building strong trusting relationships in our diverse communities. As such, we must be willing to tackle the tough conversations through dialogue and work together to end mistrust and individually begin to educate ourselves about cultural differences to feel safe and secure around people and things to which we are unaccustomed.

President Stanley has made diversity, equity, and inclusion a priority at MSU. He has created the Strategic Planning Committee and the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Steering Committee. MSU is also planning to include the Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct Strategic Plan and the soon-to-be-built MSU Multi-Cultural Center (see MSU’s Initiatives and Mission page).

The collective goal is to make MSU a welcoming and trusting university for all people.

Other Community Policing Approaches

Making combating hate crimes a priority for a law enforcement agency and a college campus sends the message that discrimination and harassment will not be tolerated. This also ensures resources are devoted to the prevention and intervention of these crimes. As at MSUPD, the entire agency should understand the importance of responding to bias incidents.

Understanding the problem involves a multidisciplinary approach with tools such as the SARA (scanning, analyzing, responding, and assessing) model. Training at all levels is important for officers and deputies to be aware of how to identify, respond to, and investigate hate crimes. Just as important as internal training is training external stakeholders such as students, faculty, and staff.

Community policing is about creating and fostering partnerships within the community. Combating crime, improving public safety, and responding to disorder go beyond law enforcement; everyone in the campus community needs to be involved in the solution. Strong law enforcement–community partnerships are critical to preventing hate crimes, as seen with ALPACT. To build these types of relationships, it might be valuable to create a public awareness campaign that provides information, awareness, and resources for students, faculty, and staff.

Forming a unit or team similar to the MSUPD IABU is an ideal option, but even if your agency does not have the capability for a full team approach, assigning a liaison or officer who can run point for staff and faculty to report potential incidents or rising tension is a good option. Finally, developing stronger data collection systems that accurately collect and interpret data, as well as participating in the FBI data reporting program and possibly publicly reporting the data to the campus, is a great way to build trust through transparency.

Trust is foundational to public safety. When a college community is impacted by hate and bias, it is vital to foster healing and inclusion and empower the campus community to work in collaboration with law enforcement.

Florene McGlothian-Taylor, MEd, Sergeant, Inclusion and Anti-Bias Unit
Michigan State University Police Department

Nazmia E.A. Comrie, Senior Program Specialist
The COPS Office

  • On November 16, 2020, the FBI released the 2019 Hate Crime Statistics. See the summary and the full data.
  • If your agency is looking for assistance in addressing bias and hate crimes, see the COPS Office Collaborative Reform Initiative Technical Assistance Center (CRI-TAC) for free technical assistance and training to state, local, campus, and tribal law enforcement agencies. For more information, please visit
  • For COPS Office–specific hate crime resources, please visit the COPS Office Hate Crime Resources Page
  • The U.S. Department of Justice launched a Crimes website to be a centralized portal for all its hate crime resources for law enforcement, media, researchers, victims, advocacy groups, and other interested organizations and individuals.

1 Berg, Kara. "Michigan State Employee under Investigation for Racist Facebook Posts." Lansing State Journal, June 17, 2000.

2 Hicks, Mark. "MSU President: ‘We Will Be Responsive’ to Racially Charged Incidents." Detroit News, October 23, 2019.

3 Johnson, Mark. "Wharton Center Removes Gift Shop Display of Dolls Depicting Black Leaders Hanging from Tree." Lansing State Journal, February 3, 2020.

4 Soave, Robby. "'Hate Crime’ at Michigan State University Was Actually Just a Missing Shoelace." Reason, last modified October 6, 2017.

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