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The Devil is in the Details: The GRPD’s ongoing effort to gain legitimacy and City’s plan to pay an Equity Analyst a huge salary

August 8, 2021

This is our latest installment of The Devil is in the Details, which takes a critical look at Grand Rapids politics and policies, based primarily on the public record, such as committee agendas and minutes. In this installment we look at more GRPD funding a the City’s plan to pay someone to be an Equity Analyst.

The Agenda Packet for the Grand Rapids Fiscal Committee, has two important items we want to explore here. The first has to do with a $21,905 Battle Creek Community Foundation grant that will go to the Grand Rapids Police Department and used for Project Safe Neighborhoods.

Sounds all warm and fuzzy, but here are more of the details:

The Grand Rapids Police Department has been awarded $21,905 from the BCCF and with the funds provided, will establish a Violent Crime Intelligence Team to collect, analyze, and disseminate accurate and timely information with the intent to prevent, respond to, and reduce violent crime. This coordinated intelligence will allow for the analysis of data to identify high-crime areas and prolific violent offenders, allowing personnel to utilize strategic and tactical operations to reduce violent crime and protect the community. Additionally, GRPD’s goal is to foster close relationships with non-profit and community organizations to meet these goals. 

An officer and a sergeant will be responsible for developing a violent crime database and will coordinate with detectives, fugitive task forces, area agencies, and the federal government to identify and apprehend violent offenders. The team will also assist crime analysts and work with local non-profits and community organizations to improve intelligence, assist in prevention programs, participate in community outreach and awareness programs, and focus on youth violence prevention and outreach in high-crime neighborhoods. The grant will cover the expenses of office supplies, training, community outreach and educational materials, and overtime for the Violent Crime Intelligence Team. 

First, why doesn’t the GRPD already have a violent crime data base? Are they too busy managing pedestrian traffic during events at the Van Andel, or maybe they are too busy harassing, monitoring and intimidating grassroots groups that are fighting against systemic oppression in this city?

Secondly, when they say this new data and “coordinated intelligence” will help reduce violent crime and protect the community, do they mean that these activities will actually result in having more cops in Black and Brown neighborhoods, since we all know that doing violent crime reduction is code for managing neighborhoods of color.

Third, the GRPD will now be collaborating with local non-profits and community organizations to both share information and to gather information. As we have stated on this blog in previous posts, this sort of behavior, particularly utilizing local non-profits and community organization is a strategy used for counter-insurgency. Those who study the techniques of counter-insurgency always acknowledge that when cops collect information from community groups it is a form of infiltration and coercion. In his book Life During Wartime: Resisting Counterinsurgency, Kristian Williams identifies five reasons why the state collects information. The fifth reason is, “the coercion of individuals for the purposes of winning cooperation and recruiting informants.”

One major objective of the GRPD to tap into the community knowledge of non-profits and other organizations is to seek legitimacy for their existence. This is always a major battle, since insurgent groups like Justice for Black Lives or Defund the GRPD are directly challenging the legitimacy of the GRPD and not just the high profile acts of repression that the GRPD engages in. If the GRPD can win over more non-profits and community groups, they will likely be able to rely on such groups to shelter the GRPD from future criticism.

Fourth, it states that the $21,905 will be used to, “cover the expenses of office supplies, training, community outreach and educational materials, and overtime for the Violent Crime Intelligence Team.” At this point I am a bit confused. Is this the exact kind of work that the GRPD has been claiming that they have been engaged in for several years? If so, then why do they need grant money to do the work they claim to already be doing? Isn’t this what the GRPD made a big deal about back in March, when they rolled out their Operation Safe Neighborhoods? In many ways, it seems that the GRPD just keeps repackaging what they claim to do, with little evidence that they actually are preventing or reducing crime in this city. 

Equity Analyst could make $371,850 for 2 year salary

The second issue has to do with another grant the City of Grand Rapids is likely to accept, one for $600,068 from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. This grant would be used to pay for a two-year salary of an Equity Analyst. The position would be for 2022 and 2023.

There would also be an additional $133,000 to pay “equity consultants” and several other line items one can read on pages 7 – 8 in the Agenda Packet for the Fiscal Committee. The packet also states what this hefty salary for an Equity Analyst will accomplish:

This grant will fund one (1) Equity Analyst (Administrative Analyst I) to work in the Office of Equity and Engagement to help solidify internal structures and protocols to embed long-term system changes in our organization. This position would afford more needed capacity to be engaged and co-lead efforts that, if done well and equitably, have the power to directly advance positive outcomes in community and change City protocol and practice for long-term change.

Ok, so this language is very vague and makes it difficult for there to be any sort of community accountability. Also, how does solidifying internal structures really make Grand Rapids more equitable?

The City of Grand Rapids has been talking about equity for years now, but all one has to do is open their eyes and see that there are a small sector of people doing really well, while thousands are struggling just to survive. We know that Grand Rapids has the largest wealth gap in Michigan. This wealth gap has only grown since the beginning of the pandemic, with lots of money going to the business sector, while regular people are unemployed, under-employed, food insecure, being forced out of a housing market hell bent on profits, not to mention the rampant structural racism that continues in Grand Rapids. City officials keep talking about the lack of investment in the south east part of Grand Rapids, yet there is little evidence that much is being done about it. Hundreds of thousands of public dollars have been pumped into social zones, benefiting bars and restaurants, while thousands of families can’t afford rent or to purchase a home in this city. 

Is all of what was just mentioned going to be the focus of the new Equity Analyst? Does paying someone $371,850 for a two year position even promote equity? Instead of more studies, more analysts and more consultants, how about if the City of Grand Rapids practiced actual equity by giving the $600,000 grant to Black families? At least that would actually result in more equity, instead of hollow words about equity.

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