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Increased surveillance and and intelligence gathering are tactics the GRPD is using to “win over the community”

July 19, 2018

The Grand Rapids Police Department has been reeling for over a year now, because of public outrage over numerous incidents where cops pulled guns on black youth. These incidents have highlighted how local police departments deal with public resistance to their treatment of communities of color.

In addition to the numerous incidents of GRPD violence against black youth, there was also the report that came out last year about how the GRPD engages in racial profiling of black and latino/latinx motorists. All of this has resulted in the black and immigrant communities protesting the policies and practices of the GRPD, especially at City Commission meetings and community forums.

On the defensive, the GRPD has been working hard to: 1) find ways to ease community concerns about their actual role (protecting power and maintaining business as usual), and 2) engage in a variety of tactics to convince the public that the police department really does care about the community.

In recent weeks, the GRPD has been hosting programs and begun a series of tactics to try to win public confidence and to get the public to assist the police in monitoring behavior, primarily in communities of color.

In late June, the GRPD began hosting a series of forums, that were organized by a paid contractor to attempt to build trust between the community and the GRPD. Policing at the Speed of Trust is what these forums have been called, where participants have a 1 on 1 session with a member of the GRPD, “where attention is directed toward objectives instead of suspicion about others’ intentions, according to a City of Grand Rapids announcement. 

The entity that the City of Grand Rapids contracted with to conducted these Speed of Trust sessions with the GRPD is Franklin Covey, a corporation that works in 150 countries around the world and with most of the companies listed in Fortune 500. Franklin Covey also works with local municipalities, specifically with Government/Law Enforcement

There is no mention on the City of Grand Rapids announcement about how much they spent to contract with Franklin Covey and the decision to host forums that has people pair up with cops is brilliant, since it gets people to think about cops as individuals instead of as a structure that uses force to control people.

Another recent initiative from the GRPD is their Gun Violence Door Hanger Initiative. This project is designed to have police officers hang information in English and Spanish, information that lets people know how to contact the police or Silent Observer. The door hangers have been used in neighborhoods where recent gun violence has occurred, with the hope that residents will assist the GRPD in sharing information about potential suspects. The Director of Silent Observer stated, “These door hangers remind residents that in order to help police stop, solves and prevent crime, they need to share what they know with police or Silent Observer and can do so in the privacy of their own home.” Such programs are a form of what police historian Kristian Williams calls counter-insurgency.

Pacification is best thought of as a massively enhanced version of the community policing technique that emerged in the 1970s. Community policing is centered on a broad concept of problem solving by law enforcement officers working in an area that is well-defined and limited in scale, with sensitivity to geographic, ethnic, and other boundaries. Patrol officers form a bond of trust with local residents, who get to know them as more than a uniform. The police work with local groups, businesses, churches, and the like to address the concerns and problems of the neighborhood. Pacification is simply an expansion of this concept to include greater development and security assistance.”

Having the public channel information to the police is a form of counterinsurgency that helps the police target communities that are heavily policed and to gather information about dissidents or potential dissidents that question the legitimacy of community policing.

One addition program that the GRPD is promoting is the Voluntary Camera Registration Program. This program, “allows residents and business owners to let the police department know that they have a camera on their property. These camera locations will be added to a database only accessible to law enforcement. Having a database with known locations of surveillance cameras will make it quicker for law enforcement to obtain video footage that may help to solve a crime.” In other words, the GRPD wants to increase their ability to monitor the public without their knowledge of this type of surveillance.

Of course, all of this costs money, but nowhere on the City’s website can we easily find out how much the taxpayers are spending to implement such programs.

If the City of Grand Rapids really want to build trust between the GRPD and the community, then the GRPD needs to stop using a disproportionate amount of violence in the black and immigrant communities, stop using intimidation tactics, harassment and the increased levels of surveillance of people who are speaking out against police abuse. I for one don’t think that is what the City of Grand Rapids will do, since the GRPD’s function is to spend the bulk of their efforts and resources to police the black and immigrant neighborhoods and to protect the system of power and privilege that exists in this city.

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