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What does it mean when the GRPD union contributes to candidates for Grand Rapids City Commission?

September 9, 2019

In the past few years, the Grand Rapids Police Officers Association and the Grand Rapids Police Command Officers Association (both of which are police unions), have been on the defensive because the public has been deeply critical of how they interact with the community.

Some of the criticisms from various sectors within the community have expressed concerns, frustrations and anger of the GRPD’s treatment of African Americans and Latinx residents throughout the city. These criticisms of the GRPD have been over issues like beating motorists, intimidating and arresting youth because they “fit a certain profile,” and collaborating and contacting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

An example of how the police union has been on the defense, was in a statement released earlier this year

Furthermore, it has become perfectly clear to all members of the Grand Rapids Police Command Officers Association that over the past two years the elected officials and appointed leadership within the City of Grand Rapids 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 any “mob rule” behavior of any organizations that raise vocal opposition.

As an example of this reality, we were previously made aware of the collusion between our elected and appointed officials and several of the groups currently calling for the termination of Captain VanderKooi. 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.

At the end of August, after it was announced that Captain VanderKooi received a mere 20 hour suspension for calling ICE on a US citizen while using racist comments directed at this US citizen, the police union put out another statement, which also is rather defensive: 

The Grand Rapids Police Command Officer’s Association is shocked and dismayed at how the rights of Captain Curt VanderKooi, who has served the City of Grand Rapids for nearly 40 years with honor and integrity, could have his rights so blatantly violated in an effort to discipline him for the first time in his career.  His due process rights, the GRPCOA collective bargaining agreement, along with state law were trampled on throughout the Citizen’s Appeal Board process and now by the final disposition issued by the City Manager.  He, and many others in City Hall, were put on notice and advised of these violations in the form of our grievance which was originally filed May 23, 2019.  We were forced to file this grievance after he was cleared of the most serious accusations following an unprecedented three iterations of the same investigation.

Captain VanderKooi was given a two day suspension, which has recently been served.  The City Manager advised the GRPCOA that he was willing to uphold the original exoneration in exchange for his agreement to retire.  This discipline was unwarranted and is clearly an attempt to appease a vocal group of activists who made him a scape goat for their own political gain.  We will be amending the grievance to appeal this most recent decision by the City Manager.  We are also awaiting a very copious FOIA request involving all the communication reference this investigation and those involved in it.  Captain VanderKooi is pleased to announce he has decided to postpone his original retirement date in 2020 and looks forward to serving the citizens and crime victims in the City of Grand Rapids as Commander of the Investigations Unit for an additional year.

Such responses reflect a temper tantrum-like behavior, especially since we are led to believe that the police are supposed to work for the public. However, those who have bothered to investigate the history of policing in the US, are well aware of the fact that the police department were an outgrowth of slave patrols and have always serve systems of power. (see Kristian Williams book, Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America

In addition to releasing public statements and claiming that Grand Rapids City officials are cowering to activists, the police union has been some of the largest contributors to candidates running for city office. Based on public election campaign documents provided by the Kent County Clerk’s office, here is what the current members of the City Commission have received from the local police unions. I’ve also included David Allen, since he was the other 3rd Ward Commissioner last elected, besides Senita Lenear.

  • Mayor Bliss – Grand Rapids Police Officers Labor Council PAC                            $3,000
  • John O’Connor (1st Ward) – Grand Rapids Police Officers Labor Council PAC   $1,000
  • Kurt Reppart (1st Ward) – Grand Rapids Police Officers Association PAC           $1,500
  • Ruth Kelly (2nd Ward)                                                                                                $0
  • Joe Jones (2nd Ward)                                                                                                $0
  • David Allen (3rd Ward) – Grand Rapids Police Labor Union PAC                           $5,000
  • Senita Lenear (3rd Ward)                                                                                           $0
  • Nathaniel Moody (3rd Ward – has not been elected, only appointed) – Moody is a current candidate for 3rd Ward, with no campaign finance documents as this date
  • Allison Lutz (current candidate for 1st Ward) no campaign documents as this date
  • Wendy Falb (current candidate for 2nd Ward) Grand Rapids Police Officers Union PAC    $5,000
  • Melinda Ysasi (current candidate for 2nd Ward)                                                                      $0

The current City Commission and potentially those who may be elected in November, have received substantial sums of money from the unions that make up the GRPD. It is rare for candidates who are running for the Grand Rapids City Commission to receive more than $1,000 for any one source, so this makes the police union PACs some of the largest single contributors to candidates for city office.

So, what does this funding mean for the police unions? Does it automatically mean that these candidates are in the pockets of the cop unions? Does it mean that cop unions have added access to city commissioners? Should the police unions even be allowed to financially influence City Commission decisions? These are all important questions that we need to think about, along with additional questions not even mentioned here, that we should be asking current members of the Grand Rapids City Commission and those who are running for the Grand Rapids City Commission. This dynamic of the likely financial influence of elected city officials by the police unions demonstrates the lack of real democracy at the city level, a practice that should not be tolerated.

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