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Grand Rapids is using bureaucratic management to further marginalize the Defund the GRPD campaign

July 29, 2020

Last week, the City of Grand Rapids made the announcement that the GRPD will be presenting to the City Commission on August 11th, regarding their new strategic plan. 

The local news media has reported a great deal on what Chief Payne thinks about police budget cuts, along with what City Manager Mark Washington has to say on the matter. In the City’s announcement from last week, Washington provided his talking points about the police budget and why he opposes Defunding the GRPD. Here are those talking points from Washington:

  • The City’s FY2021 approved budget was $22 million less than FY2020 due to the economic impacts of COVID-19.  
  • The general fund portion of the police department’s budget was reduced by $1.1 million – the largest department budget reduction. This resulted in a decreased FY2021 general fund police budget compared to FY2020.  
  • The $1.1 million reduction made during the budget process and the additional $403,000 cut made earlier this month total $1.53 million and equates to 63% of the department’s overtime budget, or roughly 15 officers.  
  • This adjustment, along with the fact the 327-person police department staff is lower than the millennium high of 369, is an indication of staffing divestment despite the city’s population growth.  
  • Since personnel accounts for more than 80% of the police department’s budget, further reductions likely would result in layoffs. Personnel changes must be carefully determined.  
  • The end is not known for the economic recession as a result of COVID-19 or the pandemic itself. It is not wise to make drastic changes without a clear picture of expected revenue and expenditures.  

The first point is pretty meaningless, since it just states the obvious. Of course COVID-19 has impacted City revenues, just like thousands of residents of Grand Rapids have been affected by the pandemic and continue to be affected.

Points 2 and 3 are basically saying the same thing and even though the amount of money to the GRPD has been reduced, it has nothing to do with Defunding the GRPD. Defunding the GRPD, not only is calling for a reduction of the police department’s budget, but that the money that would have gone to the police, be re-directed to the Black community in ways that they determine.

Point 4 from the City Manager is misleading, since the number of police should not be tied to the population of the city, but to the issue of how the police are responding to crime. Also, based on an independent investigation conducted last year, the GRPD spend most of their time responding to minor community conflicts. The study done by Hillard Heintze LLC, determined that 70% of calls to the GRPD are non-emergency. In addition, one of the recommendations from the study was that the police did not need to hire more officers and in fact, they could have non-police personnel respond to most of the non-emergency calls.

Point 5 is legitimate, since there would be a reduction in police personnel if the City were to take seriously the community calls for Defunding the GRPD. Layoffs happen all the time and the City Manager should know that literally thousands of Grand Rapidians have lost a job in recent months due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The last point from City Manager Washington not only brings us back to the COVID-19 induced economic crisis, but it misses the point about reducing the GRPD’s budget, especially if thousands of community members are calling for Defunding the GRPD.

Besides our responses to the City Manager’s talking points, there are other issues at play around the GRPD’s budget and larger issues around community safety and accountability.

First, as we have noted in a recent article, the GRPD and City officials have been attempting to radically alter the narrative around police violence and the demands from the community. However, the Defund the GRPD movement is not buying into the attempts of the GRPD and City officials to control the narrative about what has happened in the city since the May 30th protest. Protests and other forms of resistance are continuing in Grand Rapids, forms of resistance that have their own narratives.

Second, the GRPD has recently been attempting to justify their opposition to Defunding, based on recent gun homicides. However, the GRPD has not demonstrated that they would have been able to do anything to prevent these homicides. In addition, the ongoing calls from the GRPD to add more cops because of increased crime is a misleading narrative. Grand Rapids has not seen a rise in crime statistically for several years. The last time the City of Grand Rapids deceived the public around crime, they passed a ballot initiative in 1995, which solidified into the City Charter that the GRPD would receive at least a third of the City’s budget. 

Lastly, it is important to note that what the City Manager, Chief Payne and other City officials are doing, is engaging in bureaucratic management. Those with power in local government are planning on 1) dragging these issues out with the hope that people will forget or get distracted with something else; 2) that they know what is best for us, so they get to make the decisions, regardless of what the public has been saying; and 3) the City is banking on the fact that all the so-called reforms they plan to adopt around policing, will be enough to pacify people into accepting their plan. If there is ongoing resistance to the police reforms, the City will simply referred to any ongoing call for Defunding the GRPD as an extreme position that is being promoted by people who the City will attempt to further marginalize.

The attempted marginalization of the Defund the GRPD campaign is the very definition of domestic counterinsurgency, which is most often a form of psychological and ideological warfare.

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  1. stop shaming people to vote – danahmontgomery

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