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GRPD Strategic Plan update offers hollow reforms and dismissive language towards community calls for structural change, police defunding and a reimagining of community safety

February 24, 2021

In yesterday’s post about some of the Grand Rapids City Commission dealings on Tuesday, we mentioned that they were hosting a “Social Meeting” at 2pm to discuss several strategic plans, including the GRPD Strategic Plan. What follows is our analysis of the briefing provided by Chief Payne, by the Deputy Chief, the Office of Oversight & Accountability, along with some feedback from City Commissioners.

You can find the powerpoint that was used by the GRPD for their presentation at this link, specifically pages 2 – 19. Unfortunately, those presenting the GRPD Strategic Plan were simply reading what was on the screen, which is not the most engaging method of presenting.

One point that was presented was the fact that Mobil GR will now be dealing with parking violations, since that was one of the recommendations from the study done in 2019 by Hillard Heintze LLC, which we reported on at that time. The study makes it clear that 70% of the calls to the GRPD are non-emergency issues that could be dealt with by non-police staff. Parking violations are one of those non-emergency documented in the study, but there are also domestic argument (no assault), alarms going off, noise violations and welfare check that are all non-emergency calls. 

Using Mobil GR to deal with parking violations is a good first step, but now the GRPD is creating new positions like the creation of a Gang Intelligence position, which they state will “prevent further gang violence and hope to interrupt the recruiting of other youth into the lifestyle.” However, its is widely know that if youth are not subjected to poverty, systemic racism and provided strong educational opportunities, they will not be inclined to engage in gang activities, as it is generally defined. In other words, cops are not necessary if we want to do that kind of preventative work. Just moving GRPD officers from one task to a newly created one provides them with the ability to always justify more officers, and therefore the largest percentage of the City’s budget.

The GRPD Strategic Plan report stated that GRPD officers did not record one instance where they had to use deadly force when dealing with those suspected of crime during the first quarter. However, there were a non-numbered amount of times where GRPD officers did use physical force when dealing with those suspected of crime. In fact, at one point Chief Payne said, “Our officers use a great deal of restraint and discretion,” when admitting that physical force was used.

There was also a fair amount of discussion around community engagement, reflected in slides 24 – 27 in the presentation. There was a great deal of talk about meetings, talking to stakeholders (which are never defined), using surveys and even going door to door and talking with residents. At one point the Deputy Chief went as far as to say, “residents we talked to wanted the police in their neighborhoods.” This claim should be taken with great skepticism, since the GRPD offered no data, no methodology, nor did they make clear which residents made this claim. 

Chief Payne then chimed in about community engagement, stating:

We are holding quarterly meetings in the community  and we just had one (LINC and NAACP and a few other organizations). There are groups out there that, I’ll be quite candid, it’s been difficult engaging them in a meaningful way. They have provided some feedback, but it’s feedback that I don’t know how productive it is. We have been will to meet and engage with any groups that have been out there for over the last year and we will continue to do that.

Chief Payne doesn’t name which groups he is referring to, but it would be safe to say that he means groups like Justice for Black Lives and Defund the GRPD, which are autonomous groups that make it a point to meet with city officials in a transparent and public setting. In addition, these groups are calling for a reduction if police funding, with those dollars going directly to the communities most negatively impacted by the way that policing is currently done. Whether he intended to or not, Chief Payne’s candid comments are framed in such a way as to dismiss the local groups, which are part of a larger national movement that is calling into question the function of policing and the harm that state violence has perpetrated on Black communities and other communities of color.

Regarding community engagement, Commissioner Ysasi asked questions about the community surveys on their sentiments on regarding the GRPD. If the GRPD is going to lift up voices of the community, the Commissioner asked which voices and how that will be determined. She also asked what community engagement really means and are action steps being developed based on community feedback? The Commissioner’e comments and question were not really addressed.

These was also a brief presentation about the RFP’s for Violence Reduction that the would work in concert with the GRPD. There were 3 RFPs submitted, with one rejected outright and the other two eventually rejected since they did not meet the requirements of the project. The GRPD and the Office of Public Oversight and Accountability did have some recommendations about how to move forward and was leaning towards contracting with a program like Cure Violence, which several Commissioners endorsed. We wrote about these proposals back in December and pointed out that the only proposals that would be acceptable are those that the GRPD finds acceptable, which would exclude proposals to confront and dismantle structural violence.

Most of the other Commissioners expressed their gratitude to the GRPD for the report and for the work they have done. Commissioner O’Connor also voiced his support of the GRPD Strategic Plan and then stated, “it is doing what we need in this community. They are responding to the rational needs of the community. This isn’t burn it down because its not working. Such a statement was clearly meant to be dismissive of the thousands of people who have called for significant defunding of the GRPD and the allocation of those funds to directly go to Black residents and other communities that have been disproportionately affected by the way policing is done in this community. Such a comment from Commissioner O’Connor are not surprising, considering that he has been more supportive of the GRPD than any other commissioner, he has been the recipient of thousands of dollars of campaigns dollars from the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association.

While many people might consider that GRPD Strategic Plan as a success and that it is making “progress,” I would like to suggest that these mild reforms do not address the structural function of the GRPD – targeting Black and Brown residents, criminalizing poverty and homelessness, and protecting political and financial sectors of power. This is the assessment of the Movement for Black Lives and other movements across the US that are demanding a more radical and transformative approach to community safety, which does not rely on state violence, as reflected in the Vision for Black Lives.

It is instructive that the GRPD Strategic Plan presentation ended with them saying, “We will become the safest mid-sized city and most trusted police department in the United States.” However, the GRPD offered no way to actually measure such an outcome or how that would even be measured, just hallow words that do not reflect the lived experience of this directly harmed by the way that policing is done in this community.

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