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Is there really any benefit to holding a public forum for the next chief of police, when the public doesn’t get to decide?

January 17, 2022

On Wednesday, there is a community forum from 6:30 – 8:30pm in the Grand Rapids City Commission chambers, a forum designed to allow the public to ask questions of the three finalists for the new Grand Rapids Chief of Police. Even if you are unable to attend the event in person, there are opportunities to ask question online, at this link.

Wednesday’s public forum is presented as a form of community engagement, because it provides the public an opportunity to ask questions. However, we should not fool ourselves into thinking that this will really mean anything, since the process to hire the next Grand Rapids Chief of Police is anything but democratic.

The firm that was hired to find the next Chief of Police, Public Sector Search & Consulting, is a California-based firm that specializes exclusively on “recruiting police executives.” This means that the company that the City of Grand Rapids hired to assist them in finding the next Chief of Police makes their money off of finding police leaders. 

Equally important is how the paid consulting firm is presenting what Grand Rapids is like, based on their own police chief search application. The 14 page document paints Grand Rapids as the ideal city, with great public/private partnerships and a great place to raise a family. The page on the GRPD has no language that is critical of the department nor any reference to recent examples of how the police target Black and Brown communities. Oh, and the document also presents Grand Rapids as a city that is vibrant and rich in culture.

Since Public Sector Search & Consulting was hired by Grand Rapids, they held 4 virtual meetings that were poorly attended, plus they hosted 26 different Grand Rapids stakeholder input sessions. These “stakeholder” session were by invite online, which means that City official chose who to invite, plus none of this has been transparent, meaning the public does not know who was invited to these stakeholder meetings.

The local news media has been promoting Wednesday’s public forum, essentially using the same language that the City’s Press Release included, as we noted in a recent post. Since then, MLive has also written a story about the forum, with no significant improvement in the coverage.

It is important to point out that while we have known for a week about the public forum with the three police chief finalists, only WXMI 17 has produced a story that goes beyond the announcement of the forum. (as of January 16 when I wrote this)  However, the Fox 17 story only provides further information, based upon what City Manager Mark Washington had to say and what each of the police chief candidates had to say. In other words, there was no critical investigation of the three police chief candidates.

The City of Grand Rapids does provide a brief bio for the candidates, but that information also includes no real assessment of their previously held positions, nor does it provide any insight into what community-based groups, from each of the cities they have worked in, think about these men.

So what we are ultimately left with is the following:

  • Very little information about who the three police chief candidates are and their records around civil and human rights violations in the communities that have previously hired them. 
  • No transparency on the 26 different community stakeholder input meetings, both who was in attendance and what feedback was given.
  • Only one public opportunity for people to ask questions of the already selected three candidates who will be making presentations, the fielding questions during the span of a brief 2 hours.
  • No discussion from the City of Grand Rapids, nor the company hired by the City to conduct the police chief search, around the issues of how policing in Grand Rapids targets Black and Brown communities, racial profiling, or the GRPD’s targeting of organized groups who are demanding greater accountability and defunding of the Grand Rapids Police Department. 

In addition, there is no discussion or questioning why City Manager Mark Washington gets to make the final decision about who will be the next chief of police. This means that Washington, who holds an unelected position of power in Grand Rapids, will get to decide on the next police chief, another position of power, which is also an unelected position. For those of us who are in favor of abolishing the GRPD, the move to make it a position where candidates would be elected is not a terribly appealing prospect, but it might provide more public scrutiny for anyone who was running for the position.

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