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More GRPD fear mongering and private sector funding of cops

September 28, 2021

In the past few days, there have been some interesting developments in regards to the GRPD and their constant efforts to convince elected officials and the general public of their legitimacy.

First, according to the Fiscal Committee Agenda Packet (pages 16 – 18) for September 28th, there is a resolution to approve Mercy Health/St. Marys to contract for the GRPD for staffing for a total of $779,778. The language about this contractual agreement is instructive:

This partnership would be beneficial to the Grand Rapids Police Department in several ways. The GRPD’s recent strategic plan calls for increased engagement with the community. This is a great opportunity for positive engagement with visitors to the Mercy Health Saint Mary’s campus. One strategy to ensure increased engagement in the community is to decrease the volume of calls to which police officers respond, therefore allowing them more unallocated time to spend actively engaging with their neighborhood. Having a police officer assigned to the Emergency Department reduces beat officers’ responses to Mercy Health Saint Mary’s for calls for service as the officer on scene can handle most reported incidents. Additionally, crime victims are often dropped off at the Emergency Department and an officer on scene is well-positioned to collect evidence and speak with potentially uncooperative witnesses who may “drop and go”. This engagement is likely to increase the odds of a successful criminal investigation. This arrangement offers the Police Department an opportunity to engage with citizens in a non-enforcement capacity, building trust in the community, a priority of GRPD’s strategic plan. Furthermore, as Mercy Health Saint Mary’s is a regional hospital, attracting residents from all over West Michigan, GRPD officers in the Emergency Department would be ambassadors for City visitors. 

Building trust, engaging the community and acting as ambassadors for City visitors? Does anyone really believe that having heavily armed cops in an ER will make victims and witnesses feel safe, just after they have been traumatized? The rhetoric in this proposal sounds nice and fluffy, but it completely ignores the high anxiety levels that people already feel in emergency rooms. If the hospital is looking for people to help ease the level of anxieties and assist people who are experiencing trauma, having police would not make people feel safer, as is well documented in the toolkit, A Guide to Alternative Mental Health Crisis Responses

A second resolution in the Fiscal Committee Agenda Packet (pages 20 – 23) has to do with a U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant in the amount of $625,000 with a required local match of $1,709,960 to hire five additional police officers to supplement downtown area patrols. 

On this matter, the Fiscal Committee document states:

Public/private partner funding of $607,000 toward the required local match is anticipated during the 3-year project period. Of this amount, $225,000 would be from anticipated Downtown Improvement District (DID) assessments (endorsed by the DID Board on September 23, 2021) and $382,000 is anticipated to be from private party funding commitments through the Greater Grand Rapids Chamber Foundation. During that period, the City would pay the cost of equipping the officers and the remaining $472,840 of the required local match. Additionally, the City would be responsible for the $630,120 cost of the fourth-year retention period.

The document also notes that the added GRPD officers would deal with, “problematic behaviors in the downtown area.” Unfortunately, the notion of problematic behaviors is not addressed, nor are there specific examples provided. 

It’s also worth noting that the board of directors for both the Downtown Improvement District and the Grand Rapids Chamber Foundation are almost exclusively made up of members of the business class and is not reflective of the general population that lives downtown. In fact, it seems to this writer that private businesses are subsidizing the GRPD to make sure that their profits will not be threatened. 

Update: As of 9/28, the City voted to not take private funding for the GRPD’s COPS grant, and only use public money for that program.

Public Safety Committee drama

The last item that is worth mentioning is the presentation by the GRPD to the Public Safety Committee, followed by questions, comments and discussion of members from that committee. You can watch a video of the meeting held on August 24th. 

City Commissioner O’Connor asked why the GRPD doesn’t have more recruiting for new cops, with Public Safety Committee Ed Kettle shaking his head in agreement. O’Connor then suggests to Chief Payne that he ask them, the City Commission, to provide more funds to recruit more cops. This exchange is instructive, since Commissioner O’Connor has received $7,000 from the Grand Rapids police union and Ed Kettle has done paid PR work for the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Union, along with starting the social media page, Friends of GR Cops.

Later in the video, Public Safety Committee member Kyle Lim asks important questions about metrics being used to show that more cops means less crime. Chief Payne never really answers the question, only offer antidotes. Ed Kettle then says, “The fact is, we don’t have enough cops.” Lim challenges this comment by pointing out once again that no evidence has been presented to demonstrate if the GRPD can show that adding more cops reduces crime. 

What the GRPD and their supporters would like us to believe is that the GRPD are the best means of reducing crime. They can show all kinds of graphs and provide grim numbers of the rise of violence, yet they never produce concrete evidence that cops reduce violence. 

The group Interrupting Violence has an excellent resource entitled, Cop’s Don’t Stop Violence: Combating Narratives Used to Defend Police Instead of Defunding Them. Here is just one excerpt from this document that speaks volumes:

Finally, while the increase in the number of homicides over the past year is significant, it is not unprecedented: “In 1998, there were 6.3 murders per 100,000 people; 2020’s rate will likely be around 6.5 murders per 100,000. The rate likely peaked in 1980 at 10.2 and 1991 at 9.8.” In other words, homicide rates have been this high in the past, including during periods when police budgets were on the rise, and no one was talking about defunding police. 

The Interrupting Violence document ends with this assessment, which seem rather appropriate:

In the face of decades-long evidence confirming that they are not particularly effective at preventing, interrupting or solving crime — because that has never been their true function — police departments have focused on “improving police-community relations” in an effort to boost their legitimacy. They have also worked to increase the status and legitimacy of tasks unrelated to preventing or intervening in or resolving violence — like “order maintenance, social service and general assistance duties” and “educational, recreational, and even counseling services.” 

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