Major push in May for civilian oversight of police

Equity PAC is calling on all community members to attend the City Commission meetings in May to ask your city commissioner to:

1) insist on a police union contract that removes barriers to civilian oversight, transparency, community accountability
2) hire a new police chief that is serious about police reform
3) eliminate investment in any more patrol officers

Please let us know at [email protected] which meeting you plan to attend, and whether you need a ride. Equity PAC will work with you to arrange a ride. We will meet in the lobby of City Hall at 6:30pm on both dates to provide information on making general comments at City Commission.

Tues, May 14th at 7pm
Tues, May 21st at 7pm

City Commission meetings take place at:

City Hall
300 Monroe Ave NW, 9th Floor
Grand Rapids, MI 49503


Why Equity PAC believes we are in a time of opportunity to change policing

Calls for police reform continue to mount in Grand Rapids as footage from problematic police encounters with members of the black and brown community keep surfacing over and over again. It was also only one month prior that GRPD Captain Curt Vanderkooi tipped off Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain a documented US veteran Jilmar Ramos-Gomez.

In response, the police unions continue to release statements and conduct interviews that pit themselves against the rest of the community. In March of this year the Grand Rapids Police Command Officers Association accused Grand Rapids Mayor Bliss of obstruction. In February, the same police union accused elected and appointed city officials of “cowering to ‘mob rule” by suspending Captain Vanderkooi pending further internal investigations around his actions.

Police Capt. Geoff Collard of on behalf of the union said, “There is no clearer example that our city leaders would rather appease these groups who intentionally violate the law to purposely disrupt business and residents in Grand Rapids while endangering the lives of our officers, the general public and their own protesters.”

There’s is seemingly no end to the cultural issues and defensiveness that seem to be emerging from the Grand Rapids Police Department. Furthermore, when the community or finds concerns such as bias in traffic stops or officers that endanger the public by hiding crimes, then the police unions leap to their protection and discredit science or personal experience and uses these situations as a way to ask for more police when it is clearly unnecessary. Judging by the police unions actions and words it would seem no one is allowed to ask anything of the police except the police.

We don’t tolerate this anywhere else. In times of crisis countless other industries respond and evolve due to public concerns based on scientific studies. Policing seems to be the only institution that gets away without changing, or innovating, or evolving the past hundred years.

The opportunity is fast approaching to really impact policing. It is clear the institution of policing will not change on its own. Consequently, there are a few fast-approaching milestones that we, as the community, must rally around:

Police Union Contracts

Both police unions are currently negotiating their new contracts with the City of Grand Rapids as the current contracts are set to expire on June 30th of this year. These are currently closed door negotiations that no elected official is allowed or even involved in. However, the City Commission eventually votes on the contracts. These contracts are what dictates the city’s disciplinary procedures including suspension, civilian oversight, and transparency. These contracts will likely be voted on in the next month or two. It will be imperative that we, as a community, know what we want in those contracts and to show up over and over again to communicate that to the city commission. We believe no new contracts should be ratified unless they include the following [taken partially from campaign zero*]:

1. Remove barriers to effective misconduct investigations and civilian oversight

Remove contract provisions, local policies, and provisions in state Law Enforcement Officers' Bills of Rights laws that:

  • allow officers to wait 48 hours or more before being interrogated after an incident
  • prevent investigators from pursuing other cases of misconduct revealed during an investigation
  • prevent an officer's name or picture from being released to the public
  • prohibit civilians from having the power to discipline, subpoena or interrogate police officers
  • enable officers to use the contract grievance process to have an outside arbitrator reverse disciplinary decisions and reinstate officers who have committed misconduct
  • prevent an officer from being investigated for an incident that happened 100 or more days prior

2. Keep officers' disciplinary history accessible to police departments and the public

Remove contract provisions, local and state policies, and provisions in state Law Enforcement Officers' Bills of Rights laws that allow police officers to:

  • expunge or destroy records of past misconduct (both sustained and unsustained) from their disciplinary file after 2 years
    prevent their disciplinary records from being released to the public via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request

3. Ensure financial accountability for officers and police departments that kill or seriously injure civilians

Remove contract provisions, local policies, and provisions in state Law Enforcement Officers' Bills of Rights laws that:

  • require officers to be given paid administrative leave or paid desk-duty during an investigation following a police shooting or other use of deadly force
  • prevent officers from receiving unpaid suspensions as discipline for misconduct or allow officers to use vacation or discretionary time to pay themselves while on suspension
  • allow officers to receive paid leave or paid desk-duty after being charged with a felony offense

4. Provide the community a seat at the table in negotiating with both police unions

*Equity PAC compiled a complication of police reform policy which you can find here

Police Chief Hire

We need a police chief with a proven track record of implementing reforms ranging from reduction of use of force, to data-driven changes in how police interact and engage the community, to being a true public servant that is responsive to the community and city leaders. It will be imperative that we show up and give our opinions and feedback on candidates. It will also be imperative for the city to find ways to better communicate with the city on opportunities to meet the candidates. The input meetings held by the city were not well-attended. When Equity PAC canvassed around the Wealthy Theatre we found that no one we spoke to in the neighborhoods knew about the meetings. Equity PAC conducted a session with over 15 leaders in September of 2017 to develop a profile of public leadership in policing. We believe that profile applies to this next police chief hire.

Police Deployment

The police deployment study showed that the city has enough sworn officers. The problem is how they are deployed. We need to continue to battle the myth that increasing officers helps reduce crime. We need to support our City Manager and the City Commissioners as they pass on increasing sworn officers and instead use city resources to ensure that public investment, city services, and hiring are conducted equitably.

Equity PAC is putting out calls to show up to city commission meetings and continuing to pass along information on union contracts, the police chief hire, and the budget process. Please mark the dates for the city commission meetings (May 14 and 21st) on your calendar, because we anticipate that much of the future of policing in Grand Rapids will be decided in the next few months, and shaped by the voices that show up.


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