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Grand Rapids wants to update the GRPD Surveillance policy, but leaves in language which allows them to use surveillance however they want in Extenuating Circumstances

December 9, 2021

On Tuesday, the City of Grand Rapids discussed updating the GRPD surveillance policy during the Committee of the Whole meeting. MLive devoted a whole article to it, noting that City Manager Mark Washington is “expected to be approved by City Manager Mark Washington on Jan. 3, 2022.”

The MLive article does provide a decent overview of the updated draft of the City’s surveillance policy, ending with a bullet point list of issues that the updated policy would address. The article also notes that the City of Grand Rapids partnered with the NAACP and the ACLU to refine the policy. Both entities are legitimate entities, but they do not speak for the entire community.

There are numerous things that are problematic about the updated draft of the City’s surveillance policy, issues that the MLive article does not really address.

First, the updated draft of the City’s surveillance policy is not hyperlinked in the article. This is always critical, since any one of us can bring our own interpretations to the table when looking at policy language, and MLive is no exception. Here is a link to the updated draft City Surveillance policy, as was discussed during the Committee of the Whole meeting, specifically pages 4 – 15. 

Second, the MLive article says that the changes to the City’s Surveillance policy was driven by the public opposition to the ShotSpotter technology that the GRPD wanted last year. What the MLive article fails to mention, is that there was a well organized campaign to oppose the ShotSpotter technology, from a coalition of groups, who produced a statement (linked here) with several of the groups circulating an online action alert that hundreds responded to and some of the coalition member groups did actions outside the homes of several City Commissioners to pressure them to vote no.

Third, there is mention in the MLive article that when the GRPD wants to use new surveillance technology, the City will have to a public hearing for approval. This is certainly a step in the right direction, but why is there no scheduled public hearing on the adoption of the updated City Surveillance policy itself? Also, why is there no transparency on the existing surveillance practices and technology that the GRPD currently uses? I sent a letter to the City of Grand Rapids about this very issue one month ago, with no response from the City Commissioners, the Mayor or the City Manager.

Lastly, the language of the draft of the City’s Surveillance policy is vague enough, so that the GRPD and the City could justify using surveillance technology whenever they determine. Here is the language:

Extenuating circumstances” means incidents involving a good faith belief that an imminent danger to individual safety or public health is likely. 

Imminent danger” means a hazard exists which could reasonably be expected to cause death or serious physical harm immediately or before the imminence of such hazard can be eliminated through normal compliance enforcement procedures.

If recent history has taught us anything, then we should all be well aware of the fact that the laws currently in place overwhelmingly are in favor of protecting the police. In the past 18 months in Grand Rapids, we have seen the City Attorney and the City Manager stop any efforts to reduce funding for the GRPD, with vague language about “what is legal.” We have seen the GRPD repeatedly harass, intimidate and arrest Justice for Black Lives members, always justifying the arrests with their interpretation of the law or their selective enforcement of City ordinances. We have also seen numerous efforts to obtain GRPD documents through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, where the information is highly redacted.

Considering the history and the bad faith efforts of the City of Grand Rapids around policing issues, the public should be highly skeptical of the City’s updated Surveillance policy. 

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