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The Matrix of Policing in Grand Rapids

January 2, 2022

There has been heightened awareness about the function of policing, since the uprising of 2020, when several million people around the world responded to the police murder of George Floyd. I should clarify, this heightened awareness was within the white community and the news media, since it is well known that BIPOC communities have been well aware of the function of policing in the US ever since policing began.

Having cops around is almost like breathing, you don’t think about it, it just is. Or at least, it has always felt that way. Think about the history of the crime novel, TV shows, Hollywood films and video games, all of which are inundated with cops and cop themes. One thing that is fairly standard in police representation in media, is the fact that while there are some instances where “bad cops” are depicted, it is rare that the institution of policing ever comes into question. In fact, policing is so normalized, that it is hard for us to imagine a world without cops.

In today’s post, I want to look at what I refer to as the Matrix of Policing in Grand Rapids. The Matrix of Policing is essentially an investigation into how policing is so interwoven into our society.

As the graphic shows, there is Department of Homeland Security presence in Grand Rapids, which of course includes Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). There is also offices for the Michigan State Police in this community as well. However, the primary police entities in Grand Rapids are the GRPD and the Kent County Sheriff’s Department.

Now, both the GRPD and the Sheriff’s Department are entities that function within the City of Grand Rapids and Kent County. Local governments have the ultimate say in policing, since they not only approve, and to some degree craft policy, they hold the purse strings. In the case of the Kent County Commission, they also have final say in the funding of not just the Sheriff’s Department, but the Kent County Jail.

Quite often people running for local office, also receive funds from the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association, which is the cop union for the GRPD.

Then there are the programs that the GRPD implements throughout the community, most of which are youth focused, where cops say they are trying to build positive relationship with local youth, but we all know that this is a PR stunt that is really designed to be a recruiting mechanism for the police. Then there are programs like Clergy on Patrol, which attempted to propagandize local clergy and get them to buy into the mission of local policing.

The Grand Rapids Police Foundation certainly plays a major role in the funding of youth-based programs in Grand Rapids, which essentially provides tax deductible funding opportunities for the GRPD, funding that is outside of public scrutiny.

There are some so-called “checks and balances” entities as it relates to the GRPD. First, is the Office of Oversight and Public Accountability, an entity that is fairly new, but is not independent of the City Government or the GRPD, where they often have to wait months before being able to access police records.  A second accountability group is the Grand Rapids Police Civilian Appeal Board, which can review cases and hear complaints, but has no real power to hold the GRPD accountable. Lastly, there is the Public Safety Committee, which involves some residents, but it also has very limited ability to call for accountability.

The GRPD also does contractual work with private entities, such as Mercy Health, which has a contract to have GRPD officers in their Emergency Rooms in Grand Rapids.

Neighborhood Associations also have police officers assigned to their area, often having a desk in the Neighborhood Association offices. This is part due to the fact that most neighborhood associations in Grand Rapids rely on federal funding, which is controlled through the city, which requires that neighborhood associations have cops assigned to their neighborhoods.

There are also two pro-cop groups that we are aware of in Grand Rapids, the iCI Nation and Voice for the Badge. iCI Nation prefers to work in the background, whereas Voice for the Badge was created specifically with the intention of responding to the calls for more police accountability and police defunding.

Then there are all of the College and University courses/programs offered in the area, courses that are in the larger “criminal justice” framework. The Grand Rapids Community College even has a Police Academy, which is also provides potentially new recruits for the GRPD.

In talking about the GRPD and policing in Grand Rapids, one has to include the Local News Media. For more than 20 years, GRIID has been documenting how much the local news media relies on the cops as primary news sources. In addition, the local news media has demonstrated that they often act as an unofficial PR agent for the GRPD, rarely questioning Press Releases or the function of policing in this city.

Of course there are more institutions, organizations and the business community, which relies on or promotes local policing, primarily to protect their interests. 

One last group to identify are taxpayers. In Grand Rapids and Kent County, the budgets for the GRPD and the Kent County Sheriff’s Department come directly from taxpayers. Therefore, if you are not actively questions, challenging and resisting the function of policing in Grand Rapids, then you are essentially complicit in the harm they do on a daily basis.

If you want to explore more about the function of policing, there are still spots available in our GRIID 2022 Winter Class, The Function of Policing in the US.

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