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Taxpayers to cover the costs of more GRPD racial sensitivity training, amidst police violence against black and immigrant communities

June 10, 2019

Last week Tuesday, MLive reported that the Grand Rapids City’s fiscal committee voted to spend $21,268 to send two GRPD officers to Boston for a 2 week training on “racial reconciliation.” 

This decision is based upon one of the recommendations that came out of the 21st Century Policing Solutions from last year. 

The two GRPD officers who are going are Captains Geoff Collard and Dave Schnurstein. Captain Collard made headlines earlier this year when he said at a press conference that the Grand Rapids City leaders:

“will dismiss any actions by members of the Grand Rapids Police Department that are in compliance with established laws, policies and recognized best practices in law enforcement and will instead cower to ‘mob rule’ behavior of any organizations that raise vocal opposition.”

In the same written statement, Collard goes as far to suggest that the City of Grand Rapids has been in collusion with Movimiento Cosecha GR: 

“On May 1, 2018, during a large protest, leaders of Movimiento Cosecha GR intentionally overran a police position for the second year in a row. Warrants were sought, sworn to, and issued by a judge for the arrests of two individuals. Shortly thereafter, the Acting City Manager and the Mayor became involved and the warrants were squashed. There is no clearer example that our city leadership would rather appease these groups who intentionally violate the law to purposely disrupt businesses and residents in Grand Rapids while endangering the lives of our officers, the general public, and their own protestors. Having known about this obstruction of justice, of which the current City Manager has also been notified, we are only left to believe that support for our personnel while acting with great restraint and being overrun by law breaking individuals does not and will not exist.”

Such a claim is patently absurd, yet the fiscal committee wants to spend over $21,000 to send Collard and another captain to Boston to get training that will somehow build trust between black and brown communities and the GRPD.

A description of the training can be found at the Police Executive Research Forum site, which says of the training: 

The policing profession is changing like never before. New technologies and privacy issues, the implications of cybercrime, and the constantly evolving terror threat represent new and difficult challenges for police that did not exist a generation ago. Communities also expect more from their police departments in terms of procedural justice, increased accountability and transparency, appropriate use of force and racial reconciliation. Plus, today’s recruits differ in significant ways from previous generations. Chiefs must find new ways to address these issues and deliver a wider scope of services, often with fewer resources.

Does racial reconciliation training work for police?

Beyond the amount of money the City of Grand Rapids is spending on these two officers, we have to ask ourselves if this kind of training will actually achieve the goal of creating racial reconciliation. In an article in The Atlantic some 18 months ago it states: 

But even as the classes spread, it’s not clear whether they actually work. Few specific guidelines exist for what courses should include, how the material should be taught, or how to measure its effects. Indeed, little data exist about their efficacy over the long term. The Obama administration’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing included implicit-bias training on its list of best practices for law enforcement, but without specifics. That ambiguity leaves each agency to decide what the classes should look like—and whether they’re succeeding.

At their root, the trainings spring from one basic proposition: that unconscious biases—including those linked to factors like economic class and gender, but especially racial biases—are the inevitable product of growing up in a society where stereotypes are woven into the fabric of everyday life. Beneath the surface of the conscious mind, biases influence how people frame and interpret those around them—from whether a smile is shy or sarcastic, to whether a hand is reaching for a wallet or a gun.

In his important book, The End of Policing, author Alex Vitale writes:

Diversity and multicultural training is not a new idea, nor is it terrible effective. Most officers have already been through some form of diversity training and tend to describe it as politically motivated, feel-good programming divorced from the realities of street policing. Researchers have found no impact on problems like racial disparities in traffic stops or marijuana arrests: both implicit and explicit bias remain, even after targeted and intensive training. This is not necessarily because officers remain committed to their racial biases, though this can be true, but because institutional pressures remain intact.

Lastly, Vitale also makes the distinction about what the institutional function of police department are, which is to protect power and business as usual. Vital states, “Well-trained police following proper procedure are still going to be arresting people for mostly  low-level offenses, and the burden will continue to fall primarily on communities of color because that is how the system is designed to operate – not because of the biases or misunderstandings of officers.”

Therefore, we should in no way be fooled by or expect that Captain’s Collard and Schnurstein will significantly alter how they interact with black and brown communities or how they will respond to activists and organizers who are exposing police violence.

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