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GRPD gets funding for Mental Health & Wellness, the community gets traumatized

November 8, 2021

One item on the October 26th City Commission Agenda, from a recommendation through the Fiscal Committee (pages 9 – 10), was a $120,000 grant to be awarded to the GRPD from the US Department of Justice.

The DOJ grant came from their FY 2021 Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act program. According to the Fiscal Committee’s Agenda packet:

The award in the amount of $120,000, will enable the GRPD to implement a universal in-service mental health wellness training for sworn officers and eligible civilian staff. The project will address risk factors that can damage public trust, with goals to build community trust and transform departmental culture around mental health. The award period for this grant is September 1, 2021 through August 31, 2023, with no match required.

The Fiscal Committee Agenda Packet then has the following additional information in regards to the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness grant money:

GRPD’s strategic plan emphasizes building community trust within the framework of neighborhood-based policing, with one strategy emphasizing officer wellness. This project focuses on mental health wellness because repeated exposure to trauma and occupational stress can pose significant risks to officers’ mental health. Poor mental health can lead to poor judgement and poor performance, which damages public trust. This first major initiative of GRPD’s fledgling wellness program will acquire expert trainers with a background in first responder/military background through competitive bid. The curriculum will focus on resilience, stress management, PTSD, sleep hygiene, and first responder needs and culture. Eight (8) one-day workshops will be arranged to accommodate the patrol schedule, and peer support will promote the training as a positive wellness activity. The Wellness Coordinator will review surveys and other data with the Wellness Committee to track skills utilization and identify needs that may influence the design of the wellness program.

It is problematic that the person who will be doing the mental health and wellness training for the GRPD will be someone “with a background in first responder/military background.” Why do they need people with this kind of background to offer training for those who would potentially be dealing with PTSD? 

Equally problematic is the language around how all of this mental health and wellness training is critical for building community trust. The statement above says, “Poor mental health can lead to poor judgement and poor performance, which damages public trust.” While there may be some truth to this dynamic, the fact is that whenever the GRPD engages in cases that have received some media attention and calls for community accountability, the Chief of Police always says that the GRPD officers involved always “acted appropriately.” If the Chief of Police is saying that his officers acted appropriately, then it would be reasonable to say that it has little to do with cops who have poor mental health and are using poor judgement.

Let us look at a recent case where the GRPD acted appropriately, but falsely arrested a Black man, simple because he “fit the description.” On September 3, the GRPD responded to a call about a breaking and entering. Several police officers stopped a Black man who “fit the description,” and then called for backup, simply because the Black man who was falsely accused, did not obey the cops. The Chief of Police defended the action of the officers who arrested the Black man who was falsely accused, saying once again that these officers followed protocol. It should be stated that the Kent County Prosecutors office dropped the charges last week against the Black man who was falsely arrested on September 3rd.

In this case, like so many others, the people who are in need of mental health and wellness support, are the people who are being harassed, intimidated and arrested – often at gunpoint – by the GRPD. Why are there no US Department of Justice funds being made available for the victims of how the GRPD does policing in this community?

In addition, if the GRPD emphasizes the need to build community trust, these kinds of cases, along with so many others, will do nothing more than create even more distrust between the GRPD and the community, particularly Black and Brown communities.

Despite this recent history, the City Commission approved the $120,000 grant from the Department of Justice to help cops who regularly stop Black residents at gun point.

More funding for the GRPD approved

In the City Commission Agenda packet for the November 9th meeting (pages 13 & 14), there are additional items for the GRPD that the commissioners approved for funding. The first item was a new low light camera for $11,599, to be purchased from Crime Point Inc., a company that specializes in surveillance.

A second item for the GRPD that was approved was 2 radar speed trailers for the Mobile GR department from Kustom Signals, Inc. for the total amount of $24,824. Kustom Signals Inc. has their own blog, with content which is always from a pro-cop perspective, such as their post about Riot Police and Crowd Control.

A third and final item that was approved for the GRPD for the purchase, delivery, and installation of exercise equipment for the Police Department from Strengthio Fitness for the amount of $47,838.20. 

So it seems that the GRPD, despite their ongoing harassment of activists and their policing practices that disproportionately target Black and Brown neighborhoods, has received lots more taxpayer money to use against the residents of Grand Rapids and to provide even more support for cops, even if those cops traumatize members of the community. 

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