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MLive, a pro-policing narrative and the lack of radical imagination

May 8, 2018

On April 25th, MLive posted an article about the City of Grand Rapids agreeing to spend $150,000 to study whether or not residents trust the GRPD. In that same article, the reporter provides statistics which suggests that the GRPD is understaffed.

The very next day, the same MLive reporter wrote a follow-up article, entitled, Would hiring more officers solve Grand Rapids’ police-community struggles? 

However, instead of trying to answer the question posed in the MLive headline, the reporter essentially provides a platform for Police Chief Rahinsky, a police consultant and several City Commissioners to advocate for adding more cops in Grand Rapids.

One way that MLive provides a platform for Rahinsky is with the video below, where he is asking for an an increase in police officers, something he admits he has been doing for four budget cycles.

One thing that is instructive about Rahinsky’s comments is that he wants more community policing specialists. These kind of cops are assigned to specific neighborhoods and play the role of cop, social worker and community outreach person. At least this is the language that the police department uses. As Rahnisky has stated before, these kind of community neighborhood officers would be building relationships with people, so they would know the community better.

This all sounds nice, but it is also deceptive. The type of policing that Rahinsky is asking for is just another version of the “Broken Window” type of policing. The Broken window theory of policing was first laid out by criminologists James Wilson and George Kelling in 1982. This type of policing says that when a window is broken in a neighborhood and is left unattended, it will “unleash people’s latent destructive tendencies.”

Alex Vitale, in his groundbreaking book, The End of Policing, says of the broken window theory of policing:

If cities want to establish or maintain crime-free neighborhoods they must take action to ensure that residents feel pressure to conform to civilized norms of public behavior. The best way to accomplish this is to use police to remind people in subtle, and not-so-subtle ways that disorderly, unruly, and anti-social behavior are unacceptable.

Vitale goes on to say that, “Broken windows policing is at root a deeply conservative attempt to shift the burden of responsibility for declining living conditions onto the poor themselves and to argue that the solution to all social ills is increasingly aggressive, invasive, and restrictive forms of policing that involve more arrests, more harassment, and ultimately more violence. As inequality continues to increase, so will homelessness, and public disorder, and as long as people continue to embrace the use of police to manage disorder, we will see a continual increase in the scope of police power and authority at the expense of human and civil rights.

Instead of providing some insight into even the possibility of reducing or even eliminating the police department, the MLive reporter has internalized the normalcy of policing. There are no real critical voices in the article and no one outside of government is sought out as a source to provide a counter to Rahinsky’s narrative.

Author of numerous books that critique the history and function of policing, Kristian Williams, makes it clear that community policing is a form of counter-insurgency warfare. What Williams means by this is that community policing specialists, what Rahinsky is wanting to add to his department, would be people who would spend more time in the community, gaining the trust of people for the primary purpose of gathering intelligence on those who operate outside of social norms, which is to say, outside of the parameters that systems of power have determined for us.

Operating outside of what systems of power have determined is exactly why the Cosecha GR May 1st march was so heavily policed and why the police were so incensed that the march organizers would not share their plans with the cops. 

One last point about the MLive article is that is also never even explores why the GRPD uses one-third of the entire city budget. If we allow ourselves to engage in radical imagination, they we might begin to envision that if marginalized communities had more wealth and were more self-sufficient, there would be no need for policing. When people’s basic needs are met, pathological social behavior will decrease. If people were not worrying about housing, health care, education and meeting all their nutritional needs, there would be no need for cops.

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