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Deconstructing the new sanctity of life policy from the GRPD

July 27, 2022

During Tuesday’s Public Safety Committee meeting, GRPD Chief Winstrom rolled out his new recommendations for policing in Grand Rapids, policing that in his words, “is rooted in a sanctity of life approach to policing.”

The very fact that Chief Winstrom has the audacity to refer to the policing that is done by the GRPD as grounded in a sanctity of life approach is in one sense laughable, but it also underscores why City Manager Mark Washington hired Winstrom in the first place. Over the short months since Winstrom was hired he has demonstrated that his primary skill is to act as a Public Relations mouthpiece for the City of Grand Rapids. Winstrom has shown time and time again that he can bullshit with the best of them. The Chief’s ability to use language to fool people is impressive and it appears that lots of people are buying into what he has to say. 

You can watch Chief Winstrom’s presentation during the Public Safety Committee meeting from Tuesday, or you can download the 31 page report, which the presentation is based on. In this post, I want to look at the 31 page recommendations document, offering up some critiques and analysis that challenges what Chief Winstrom has crafted.

On page 2, the document states, Our City suffered significant trauma in 2020, through the pandemic and again with the shooting death of Patrick Lyoya in 2022. We have healing to do together. Let’s be clear here that the City of Grand Rapids did not suffer trauma from the unarmed uprising that took place on May 30th, 2020, the pandemic and the GRPD murder of Patrick Lyoya. Some people in this city experienced a whole lot more trauma, so to suggest that everyone did, is simply dishonest. We know from data and the lived experiences of BIPOC communities, that those communities have suffered more and have experienced more trauma during the past 2 years that Winstrom acknowledges. In addition, numerous people, especially from BIPOC communities, have been brutalized and traumatized by the GRPD, which Chief Winstrom fails to acknowledge.

On page 3, Winstrom lists several policy changes and reports that have been done since 2015, all of which we in direct response to increased scrutiny of the police nationally – the January 2015 Community and Police Relations Committee’s1 2-Point Plan came 5 months after cops shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, which sparked national outrage and put the Movement for Black Lives on the map. Police departments, like the GRPD, always put forth well polished reforms, but such reforms have little to no impact on how BIPOC communities and dissidents are treated by the police. 

On pages 5 – 7, Chief Winstrom lists meetings they have hosted in the city as part of their community engagement work. Cops love meetings, particularly meetings that they organize, since it allows them to control content and process. These meetings are spectacles at best, since many people either don’t feel safe coming to meetings with violence workers present, and/or they don’t believe what they have to say will be taken seriously. On page 7, Winstrom goes out of his way to make this statement, “While some have been vocal about “abolishing” the police, the majority of residents and stakeholders would like a more visible police presence in their community and consistently rank the need for public safety highly.” Such a statement is not verified, like we are all supposed to take his word for it that the majority of residents want a more visible presence of the GRPD. This statement is also a great sleight of hand example of good PR, since it not only makes unsubstantiated claims, it marginalizes those who are calling for the abolition of police departments. 

On page 10, Winstrom then gets into current policy changes, suggesting that the old way of doing things was to just apply use of force. Now, we are led to believe that the GRPD will use “De-escalation, response to resistance, and use of force.” Does this evolution mean that cops were not using de-escalation tactics previously? It seems that in recent years, the GRPD was constantly talking about de-escalation with use of force only as the last resort. More importantly, the use of force is still the end result, which in the State of Michigan, pretty much lets the GRPD do whatever they want.

On page 13, Chief Winstrom says that training with the new policies will begin on August 2, which includes – Improved understanding of the entire history of policing, Self-regulation, De-escalation, Neuroscience of Stress/Fear response, Constitutional Policing, and Re-enforcement of core policy principles through training provided by OPA. It would be interesting to see how the GRPD presents the history of policing, but I’m not guessing they will provide information that books like Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America or The End of Policing. Alex Vitale’s book, The End of Policing, makes it clear sensitivity training, diversity trainings, implicit bias training or any other real training that police receive, doesn’t really change how policing is done, since they don’t take into account the institutional pressures that remain intact. 

Another aspect of the “new training” with the new policy changes, is that the GRPD will now verbally communicate with suspects that if they do not comply with police commands that they will be given a warning before use of deadly force. Does anyone think that it will be beneficial for those being targeted by the GRPD to know if they do not comply with Police commands that will be told that they will be tased, beaten, have a cop put his knee on their neck, or shoot you in the back of the head? Take a moment to ponder that question.

Most of the rest of the document provides data and graphs – administrators love data and graphics – showing levels of crime, homicides, car theft, etc. This section of the document, which is the largest, is what police departments refer to as “put the fear of God into them” section. This kind of data is used to provide justification for police departments to continue to have bloated budgets and to continue to justify the existence of policing in the first place. We assume that the data they present is accurate and that the only rational response is more cops. As a counter to this kind of data, we highly recommend the report entitled, Cops Don’t Stop Violence, which deconstructs the whole notion of crime, how crime data is misused to serve policing interests and how police consistently engage in their own crimes against people they stop, detain and arrest. 

The reality is that in Grand Rapids right now, there are too many people who deeply believe in the necessity of the GRPD. I’m not talking about the Voice for the Badge types, I’m talking about lots of good White Liberals, who fundamentally believe that cops are a force for good, thus making it difficult for them to even image a world without cops, also known as violence workers. We have a great deal of work ahead of us, but like all movements for abolition and collective liberation we need to practice revolutionary patience. 

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