The next Grand Rapids city manager will decide how much police violence is tolerable

In September of 2017 Equity PAC issued A political framework to advance equitable policing. This framework was a result of a discussion with 15 citizens, community leaders and elected officials to develop a profile for public leadership in policing. The group agreed that to change policing Grand Rapids needs public officials that measure success through observable change in the community. However, we have seen no observable changes in policing in the community in the past few years by any objective measure. This is why the citizens of Grand Rapids must show up to the city manager interviews starting on Monday, January 29th to use their voice to shape the most important equity decision the city will make for years to come.

Equity PAC was created because the City of Grand Rapids voted affirmatively to put 64 more guns in the hands of police. Since then we have seen the Grand Rapids police hold innocent children at gunpoint and then respond with defiance. We’ve seen a third party study that found Grand Rapids police to be racially biased in their traffic stops and again the police respond with defiance.

More recently the GRPD held an 11 year old black girl at gunpoint and detained her while searching for a white suspect to a crime. The Grand Rapids Chief of Police David Rahinsky found no wrong doing on the part of the officer. Police policy allows for racial bias. 

For a city that is verbally dedicated to equity to the point that they bring in the Government Alliance on Race and Equity to “achieve racial equity and advance successful outcomes for all” or 21st Century Policing to “review policies and procedures that could lead to disparate outcomes” it is surprising to see no progress on one of the most important equity issues facing our community – policing. As a matter of fact it seems that police only continue to benefit from this inaction. Since 2015 they have received more guns, more funding, and now the Chief wants more police officers.

We are failing. The city is failing people of color because these issues continue. And failure isn’t simply in the violence that police are using against people of color. It should be of grave concern to our democracy when the Grand Rapids Police Department uses secret phone lines to avoid public transparency, especially when they use that line to unjustly conceal a prosecutor’s drunk driving accident. However there was no independent investigation of a line that was recording phone calls for 6-7 years. The three officers involved in the cover up were supposed to be fired, but the city manager decided to give 2 of them a 120 hour paid suspensions instead – a vacation.

Even further, when MLive recently requested to hear unredacted recordings from those lines, City Commissioners Jon O’Connor and Kurt Reppart voted to deny the request without even listening to the recordings themselves.

As long as we and our elected officials let police hide behind the blue wall they can’t be touched. This is why there is no accountability for the inequitable actions towards people of color. For some reason, the only union that is protected in West Michigan is the police union. The police union works very diligently to hide these wrong doings from the public. This is the same wall that protected the likes of Harvey Weinstein for years, Larry Nassar for years, allowing them to go unchecked, along with others that still hide behind the fraternal wall of the protected and privileged.

As we look to the hire of a new city manager policing must be the priority issue. We need a public leader willing to rethink policing and hold the culture of police violence in check. For those of you involved in the interviewing and hiring of the new city manager, this is an opportunity for a public discussion on policing. Here are six expectations we should have from a city manager if we are committed to reducing police violence:

1. We need a city manager that does not support an increase in the police force or their budget as an answer to preventing crime. There is growing evidence that reducing police forces improves crime rates. We should use our public resources on more important investments such as affordable housing and creating stronger neighborhoods.

2. We need a city manager to implement a transparent budget process that requires publicly reported police outcomes and whether the public approves of their performance. For example, Citizenlab’s model and the Participatory Budgeting Project are good models to review to examine improving city/community relations by tasking the community with actually making decisions on the city budget. The police budget should be linked to whether they actually are effective, which should include a measure of public satisfaction with their performance.

3. We need a city manager willing to invest in the collection and reporting of data that tracks bias in traffic stops, arrests and ticketing. The initial recommendations of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing included police departments better using data to build community trust. This should be a priority of Grand Rapid’s Commission-appointed 21st Century Policing Police Policy and Procedure Review Task Force, and we need a city manager and city commission willing to commit the funds toward this objective. To date, the City has been unwilling to look further into policing data.

4. Does the city manager support transparent disciplinary action for officers who demonstrate bias in traffic stops or when the community is harmed by the police? Police unions vigorously stand in the way of justice by placing barriers in the way of investigation of police misconduct, keeping police disciplinary records from the public eye and reducing financial accountability for officers. Addressing these issues is a key part of the Zero Campaign. Our next city manager must be able to challenge social norms that protect the wrongful actions of “bad apple” police, at any cost, no matter what the damage is that’s done repeatedly to citizens of all vulnerable populations.

5. Collective bargaining between the City of Grand Rapids and the police unions should be public. This bargaining transparency has been a recommendation made by the Seattle city attorney for his own city, the place where the Government Alliance on Race and Equity has done its best work.

6. The GR Police Policy and Procedure Review Task Force must put forward recommendations that support policy changes related to use of force; training and testing of officers on eliminating racial bias; revise the current internal affairs policies to establish a non-biased 3rd party review outside of the department; strengthen the role of the Civilian Appeals Board to include subpoena powers; analyze current policy related to “must arrest” or “must ticket” to reduce the criminalizing of poverty; and establish procedures that require the Police Department to regularly report data on their stops, arrests and ticketing by race to the community. We need a city manager that will support this level of policy change, even if the police themselves don’t want to make the changes.

It’s clear policing won’t correct itself and little has changed for people of color on the street in the past two years. If we have a city manager in place that will dedicate the empathy, resources and political will to make these changes we can write these policies. We can see these changes made over the next year if enough of us say we want it. Our city must hire a leader that wants to see real change for people on the wrong end of the flashlight and service weapon. Use your power now in the decision making process for the city manager.


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