Dr. Lisa R. Jackson, psychology professor and department chair, has long been an activist pushing for greater accountability and transparency by law enforcement. Her passion, achievements and desire to create solutions are key reasons why Governor Gretchen Whitmer appointed Jackson to the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards (MCOLES).
MCOLES executes its statutory responsibility to promote public safety in Michigan by setting standards for selection, employment, licensing, license revocation and funding in law enforcement and criminal justice, in both the public and private sectors.
Jackson is one of three community members appointed to the Commission – the first time non-law enforcement people have been included.
“By bringing more diverse voices together, we can enact important changes to police procedures and build a more equitable state,” Governor Whitmer said in a statement. “Having community leaders and the director of the Department of Civil Rights on this commission will help us ensure we’re enacting reforms to ensure everyone, no matter who they are, is treated fairly under the law. I look forward to working with this group and with everyone else who wants to build a more just, equitable Michigan.”
Jackson is looking forward to her work on the Commission.
“My goal is to bring some much-needed outside perspective to the group,” she said. “I will be the only oversight professional on the Commission, so accountability, transparency and building community trust will be foremost in my mind.”
Building on progress in Ann Arbor
Jackson previously served as Vice Chair (March-October 2019) and Chair (October 2019-present) of the Ann Arbor Independent Community Police Oversight Commission.
“There had never been police oversight in Ann Arbor, so making inroads with the police department and City Council has been challenging,” she said. “To have oversight in theory is quite different from what it requires – time, cooperation and funding – in practice.”
Requests for data and information, for example, are not always promptly fulfilled.
“Being accountable to the public via oversight is indeed police work,” Jackson said. “So, these are common struggles for new oversight commissions, but it’s quite arduous for us to get people on board. Even viewing body-worn-camera and dash-cam footage was challenging, because the Ann Arbor Police Department (AAPD) wanted to do it between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. at their location, but our commissioners go to work every day. So those mundane struggles were time-consuming, and still are to a degree.”
Despite those challenges, Jackson has been able to effect change.
“Since I became Chair we have begun to have an impact on AAPD policy,” she said. “Things we asked for and got implemented include AAPD making their policies and procedures public for the first time; AAPD also is developing a policy on interactions with the transgender community.
“Further, we were able to develop and implement a Serious Incident Response Contingency Plan. For the first time, AAPD has codified the way they will communicate information to the Oversight Commission when a serious incident happens, such as serious injury or death caused by a police officer. That enables greater transparency for the community.
“For the first time, people other than City Council are attempting to influence police union contracts. We are making very serious requests around accountability and transparency. The things we are asking for – being able to see the names of officers who have had complaints filed against them, lengthening the time that complaints are factored into discipline – are quite basic transparency requests, but we will see if we are successful.”
Jackson will continue as Chair of that group while serving MCOLES, meaning she can continue to have an impact at the local and state level. She’s had an interest in police behavior for a long time.
Carrying on the work of her parents
“Both of my parents were activists, getting involved in improving their community, from literacy programs, registering people to vote and marching,” Jackson said. “Like (Democratic Vice-President nominee) Kamala Harris, I have memories of being a toddler at marches with my parents.
“My dad was a therapist in the 1970s, and he was frequently called to the scene by police when there was a call for a potential suicide attempt. He would intervene to talk to the person. Today, we don’t fund community mental health in those ways, and far too often we see those people in distress get shot by the police, and my question has been, why would that be the far-too-common response of the police?”
Jackson has seen her own students negatively impacted by police actions.
“One had a mental health crisis; a family member didn’t know whom to call, so she dialed 911,” Jackson said. “My student ended up being forcibly removed and transported to a mental health facility, which was not necessarily appropriate and certainly caused more trauma.
“I also served on the Board of Directors of Ozone House for many years, which is a youth and family services agency that serves homeless, food insecure and at-risk youth. I saw the many, unnecessary encounters they had with police. They were treated as if they were at higher risk of potentially committing a crime, when in fact, homeless youth are more vulnerable to being victims of crime.
“I have had homeless students at Schoolcraft relate their stories of negative interactions with the police, and it has been frustrating. I want to be part of the solution, not stand by and watch it devolve.”
Putting her expertise in action
In addition to her passion, Jackson brings scientific discipline and rigor to this cause from her expertise as a behavioral neuroscience researcher.
“My experience as a researcher is invaluable in that it helps me analyze data and information in an objective manner,” Jackson said. “It allows me to come to the table concerned, but also neutral and open to learning from many groups, whether that is activists, organizers, other oversight professionals or police.
“It also means that my habit is to cite information. Whenever I deliver a talk, whether that is to City Council, at a protest rally, or chairing my own meetings, I have citations and references. As a Black woman in neuroscience, I am used to people challenging what I say, when they would accept it from a while male. That happened at Society for Neuroscience meetings more than I can count, and that means that I am almost always over-prepared.”
As a psychologist, Jackson said she can understand human behavior without romanticizing it.
“I understand that when police are sleep deprived, they are more likely to rely on their bias, and that that has gotten people killed,” she said. “I know that more police officers die from suicide than by criminals every year and that police don’t want to talk about it. I understand the stigma of suicide, but I also know that working on that keeps communities safer.
”It also means that people feel comfortable talking to me. I am interested in people’s stories. I have been able to form individual relationships with people from every position you could imagine (including police officers), who text me and talk to me about what’s going on and how things are impacting them. I am grateful for that, and people know they can trust me.”