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GRPD moves forward on ShotSpotter technology, ignoring public concerns and minimizing community opposition

November 8, 2020

Last week, the Grand Rapids Police Department held two town hall meetings (Nov. 2nd and Nov. 5th) centered on the issue of whether or not the GRPD would be obtaining gun shot detection technology from the private company known as ShotSpotter.

Previous to these two meetings, a coalition of community based groups had demanded that the GRPD hold off on these meetings, since Nov. 2nd was the day before the elections, with lots of people involved in last minute campaign work. As it turns out, the Nov. 5th meeting was also highly problematic, in that the federal elections had not yet been decided and the focus of much of the nation was on the outcome of that election.

The community-based coalition that made that demand had sent out a Media Release statement on October 31st, which also included several other demands, which the GRPD ignored.

In addition, the group Defund the GRPD, also sent out an action alert, which provided community members an opportunity to send a message of opposition to ShotSpotter to the Mayor, City Commissioners and the City Manager. I sent one of those message and the only response I received was a short message from a staff person in the City Manager’s office, which said, “On behalf of the City Manager, thank you for your concern. Your email has been forwarded to the Police Chief.” 

Dictating the format and the outcome

I watched both of the 90 minute GRPD-hosted forums on ShotSpotter technology and here is what I learned. First, representative from ShotSpotter spent more than 30 minutes presenting information on the technology, with their own spin on what the technology does and doesn’t do. Of course, ShotSpotter wants to sell Grand Rapids this technology, since this is how they make their money. Once the presentation portion had ended, Chief Payne made comments before there was opportunity for the public to weigh in. Chief Payne also put his own spin on the topic, with a more relevant message during the November 5th meeting, which we will get to in a moment.

People could call in to make a comment, ask a question or post comments and questions on the City’s Facebook page. When questions were asked, this provided the representatives from ShotSpotter and the GRPDd even more time to talk, which translated in leaving less than half of the town hall meeting time for public comment. In terms of where people stood on this issue, there was overwhelming opposition to ShotSpotter, compared to those who endorsed it.

When Chief Payne spoke at the November 5th meeting, this is what he had to say (which people can listen to for themselves at the 35:30 time on the video on the City’s Facebook page): 

We will find funding for ShotSpotter within our budget. It is only contingent upon City Commission approval. We will have to take this before fiscal and the entire City Commission to get approval, because it is new technology that would come to Grand Rapids and it would have to get approval. Thus, that is why we are holding these town hall meetings and trying to engage the community to be as transparent as we can. I mentioned in my opening that this is not a magic wand that is going to reduce all the gun violence we are seeing, but I do see it as a very important part of everything that is possible for us moving forward in reducing the amount of violence that is occurring within the community.

As many of us suspected, the GRPD had pre-determined that they were going to adopt the ShotSpotter technology, despite going through the motions of so-called community engagement. 

Chief Payne also stated that the department would be presenting the idea to the city’s fiscal committee on Nov. 10 to identify funding. It would then go before city commissioners, which of course is this Tuesday. Moving this quickly clearly sends the message that, not only does the GRPD not care what the community thinks, they want to push this through as fast as possible in order to preempt any public opposition. 

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