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A short history of the GRPD Budget

July 20, 2021

The Grand Rapids Police Department, the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association and City officials have all pushed back against a significant call from the community to defund the police department.

In June of 2020, when the coalition of groups that formed to demand that the GRPD be defunded, some City officials were willing to listen to what the community had to say. However, the City Manager and the City Attorney stepped in and prevented a proposal from several City Commissioners to actual reduce the GRPD’s budget.

Since then, there have been two dominant narratives coming from the police. The first narrative is that the GRPD have made reforms, a narrative that is hollow and meant to distract us from seriously investigating the real function of policing in this society. 

The second narrative coming from the GRPD has been that gun violence is on the rise, therefore this would be a bad time to defund the GRPD. The reality is that the GRPD rarely ever actually prevents gun violence or other homicides from happening in this city, they just show up after the fact. In other words, the GRPD does NOT prevent violence, they only manage it, particularly violence from below.

Structural violence – the violence of poverty, the violence of low wages and the violence of food insecurity – these forms of violence, which do more harm in our community, are never prevented or even considered by the GRPD. In fact, structural violence, which is violence from above, from those with political and economic power, are protected and defended by the GRPD.

I was recently reading Sidney Harring’s, Policing A Class Society: The Experience of American Cities 1865 – 1915,  and came across a brief description of a labor strike in Grand Rapids in May of 1891.  I decided to look up how the local newspapers reported on the strike.

Both cable and horse car workers went on strike May 10, 1891, for higher wages and union contracts. The company began hiring scab workers immediately. As the week progressed, workers tried to keep cars from running, first by inducing others not to take their jobs, but later also by blocking the cars.

The Grand Rapids Eagle and the Grand Rapids Democrat newspapers, both reported on the strike. The Grand Rapids Eagle even reprinted the text of a flyer that the striking workers were handing out, which includes information about a labor parade and the role of the local Sheriff’s office. The same was the case during the 1911 Grand Rapids Furniture Workers Strike and any other worker strike that has happened in this city. The police show up to defend the company, to protect scab workers, to defend the Capitalist Class and to defend business as usual.

Policing was created in the US prior to the Civil War with the use of slave patrols, where men were hired to hunt down and bring back those who had fled slavery, especially after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850.

Since then, police departments, like the GRPD, have existed to keep social order for those with power, whether that is to suppress strikes or make sure that Black, Latinx, indigenous and other communities of color do not assert their rights.

It is instructive to note that has Black, Indigenous and Latinx people have asserted their rights, particularly since the late 1950s, one can see how police budgets across the US and right here in Grand Rapids have increased. These increases in police budgets have also coincided with an increase in the funding for law enforcement at the federal level.

In her important book, America on Fire: The Untold History of Police Violence and Black rebellion Since the 1960s, Elizabeth Hinton makes a clear correlation between increased federal spending on policing and Black militancy. For instance, after the 1967 riots occurred in cities across the country, Congress passed The Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. This legislation not only increased funding for the police, it provided an upgrade in weaponry. 

Getting back to the GRPD, we see this same correlation with increased federal funding for policing as a direct response to Black people not falling in line. In 1965, the GRPD budget was $2,003,380. By 1969, the GRPD budget had more than doubled, increasing to $4,022,565

We can then look to passage of The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, commonly referred to as the 1994 Crime Bill, which also provided massive increases in police funding. In Grand Rapids, the GRPD budget was $23,762,515 in 1994. In 1995, the City Charter was changed to make it so that at least 32% of the City’s budget would be allocated to the GRPD. By 1996, the GRPD budget grew by more than 3 million, totaling $27,865,047

In 2000, just prior to 9/11, the GRPD’s budget was $39,533,775. After 9/11, the rhetoric at the federal level supporting the police was very high, so naturally the federal government was able to push for more police funding in order to fight against domestic terrorism. This led to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and the further militarization of the country. By 2003, the GRPD’s budget had grown to $43,207,168

In 2020, we saw the largest anti-police protests in US history. Cities all across the country were protesting against the continued police killing of Black people. On May 30th, 2020, Grand Rapids saw a similar response. 

The Biden administration has already been calling for an increase in police funding, so one would think that funding for police at the local level would increase as well. However, because of the massive call for defunding police departments, we have not seen a significant increase at the local level. In Grand Rapids, the budget for the GRPD did increase, but only by $700,000, bringing the total to $55.81 million for 2022. Any increase for the GRPD budget is still too much, but it is important to acknowledge that for the first time in Grand Rapids, and across the US, there is a defund the police movement that has already had tremendous success in challenging the power of the police and police funding.

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