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A more honest assessment of the GRPD 2023 Strategic Plan

February 23, 2023

In addition to the GRPD introducing their plan to purchase and use drones on Tuesday, Chief Winstrom also presented the latest GRPD Strategic Plan to City officials.  

Both WOODTV8 and WXMI 17 reported on the release of the updated GRPD Strategic Plan. Like the MLive article we critiqued yesterday, the channel 8 and channel 17 stories only cited Chief Winstrom and offered no critical assessment or challenging questions about the GRPD’s 2023 Strategic Plan.

The 2023 GRPD Strategic Plan is 17 pages long, although there are lots of graphics and images to fill those pages. One could critique each page, but for our purposes, the most important page is page #4 (shown here above), which lays out their primary goals. The rest of this post will focus on critiquing the nine points on page 4, along with offering some alternative views and links to resources that come out of an abolitionist view of policing.

Point #1 – Prioritize building a police and community partnership founded on trust. This point borders on insulting. How can the GRPD claim to want to build trust with residents, when they disproportionately have a presence in Black and Brown neighborhoods, and they disproportionately detain, arrest and brutalize Black and Brown residents? Here is a list compiled by the Bridge:

  • In March 2017, police officers pulled over and aimed guns at a group of five young unarmed Black boys. The incident was followed by heated community discussions at City Commission meetings. Former Chief of Police Dave Rahinsky, who has since retired, apologized to the boys, their families and the Black community, but he maintained that officers followed protocol.
  • The next month, a traffic study was released that showed Black motorists in Grand Rapids were twice as likely to be pulled over as white motorists despite the fact that the city’s Black population was around 14 percent at the time.
  • As a result of the traffic study, the department hired consulting firm 21st Century Policing to evaluate its policies and procedures and find and remove examples of implicit bias. Some of the recommendations the firm made were to increase cultural competency training for officers and host discussions between the community and police.
  • In December 2017, the police faced scrutiny when an officer pointed a gun at an unarmed 11-year-old Black girl before searching and handcuffing her. This incident led to the department adopting a new youth interactions policy that was implemented to protect other children from unnecessary police force.
  • In 2018, there were two more incidents of police officers either pointing guns at or handcuffing unarmed Black and Brown children, prompting the department to update its youth interaction policy just a year after it was created. Police made changes to how youth would be handcuffed, when a child would be put in a police cruiser, and when officers should draw a firearm.
  • In November 2018, citizens criticized the department after a police captain called U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on U.S. citizen and Marine combat veteran Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, even though he was carrying multiple forms of identification that proved he was an American citizen.
  • In 2019, the American Civil Liberties Union and Michigan Immigrant Rights Center filed civil rights complaints against police for the situation with Ramos-Gomez and an unrelated incident where police officers pulled over two unarmed teens, one of whom was a 15-year-old of Mexican descent.
  • The complaints led the Michigan Department of Civil Rights to host two public hearings during which residents voiced concerns about the way Grand Rapids police treat Black and Brown people. The state opted against opening an investigation.
  • In late 2019, a city-sponsored survey found 3 in 10 Grand Rapids residents didn’t trust the police department. Unlike the traffic study from 2017, this was an anonymous online survey only.
  • In May 2020, the police budget was increased by $700,000 to $61 million despite calls from some activists to decrease funding to police. (Budgets to many other police agencies nationwide also increased around this time as well.)
  • Later that month, the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis led to several days of protests in Grand Rapids, including some that resulted in property damage, broken windows and police dispersing crowds with tear gas and flash bangs.
  • Following the protests, Grand Rapids officials said they are willing to make police reforms to make the department more accountable and safer for residents. At the time, many activists were still calling for the department to be defunded to better invest in community services.
  • On the morning of April 4, 2022, 26-year-old Congolese immigrant Patrick Lyoya was shot and killed by a Grand Rapids police officer. Chief Eric Winstrom said the investigation, which is being handled by the Michigan State Police, is ongoing. Winstrom wouldn’t give the name of the officer who killed Lyoya, but said the officer was “in shock” following the incident.

I would add to this list the ongoing harassment, monitoring, intimidation and arrests of activists who have been challenging GRPD practices of targeting Black and Brown residents.

Point #2 – Seek full staffing, recognizing the need for diversity, to ensure optimum public safety for the people of Grand Rapids. The GRPD are continually calling for more cops, which means a bloated budget that is rarely questioned. More importantly, the GRPD uses the oldest myth about what there function is, which is to prevent crime and create public safety. I would encourage people to read the report put out by Interrupting Criminalization, 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 report is well researched and full of data, that is presented in a very readable fashion. The report concludes with the following statement: 

It’s time to recognize that decades of pouring more money, resources, and legitimacy into policing in an effort to increase safety have failed — because policing is functioning as it is intended to: to contain, control, and criminalize Black and Brown communities rather than to prevent and reduce violence. It’s time to invest in meeting community needs and building non-police community safety strategies. It’s time to invest in just recovery. 

What an increasing number of people are demanding across the country is based in the principle that when more resources are spent on meeting the basic needs of communities, cops become obsolete. Here is an excellent graphic with 5 evidence based strategies to reduce violence and crime, also from Interrupting Criminalization. 

Point #3 – Focus on crime prevention and reducing violent acts throughout the community in creative and innovative ways. Cops do not and cannot prevent crime, they only show up after the fact. As was stated in the previous point, if communities are fully resourced, police become unnecessary. The GRPD wants to justify their work with youth or clergy as doing violence prevention, but the fact remains that the needs of youth or other marginalized communities are best served by the communities they come from. In 2019, the study done by Hillard Heintze LLC (beginning on page 53 of the link), determined that 70% of calls to the GRPD are non-emergency calls. You can see here on the right, the breakdown of types of calls that the GRPD responds to. With 70% being non-emergency, wouldn’t it follow that conflicts or complaints could be dealt with, without the need of police officers. 

Point #4 – Educate, engage, and communicate how GRPD services and enforcement are delivered; provide ongoing, meaningful opportunities for community dialogue as policing practices evolve. Point #4 assumes that the GRPD has something important to offer the public in terms of education. The reality is that Point #4 would impose a narrative on the public, as opposed to educating them. What the public really needs is education/training on Knowing Your Rights, so that we can be less intimidated and less bullied by cops when they show up in our communities. Here are some useful Know Your Rights links:

Point #5 – Ensure transparency and accountability. Police Departments are inherently not transparent and there is little accountability. When the public files a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA), it is common practice for the GRPD to black out the majority of the documents requested. In 2019, the undocumented immigrant justice group, Movimiento Cosecha, submitted a FOIA request (which cost $551) most of the information was redacted, as you can see at this link. The GRPD’s argument for not revealing information about how they were monitoring the immigrant justice group was, “ It is the City’s position that the public interest in the disclosure of this information is outweighed by the public interest in keeping this information private. 

Point #6 – Partner with crisis intervention, mental health, housing, and healthcare specialists to better match resources with calls for service to improve outcomes for those in crisis and help keep the focus of patrol officers on crime response, proactive policing tactics, and community engagement. There is absolutely no need for cops to be involved in most of the calls that the public makes, based upon the 2019 study we cited in Point #3. Instead of having cops “partner” with community-based resources, how about we simply inform the public about the resources available, similar to what the group Defund the GRPD has done with their refrigerator magnets that have community resources and contact information that would completely bypass the GRPD.

Point #7 – Increase youth outreach. The GRPD has made it clear in recent years, that their youth outreach work is fundamentally a recruiting mechanism for future cops. If communities have financial and other resources necessary for providing healthy, safe and creative spaces and opportunities for youth, then the GRPD would never have to craft programs which are completely unnecessary.

Point #8 – Focus training for new and veteran officers on de-escalation techniques, recognizing and overcoming implicit biases, and understanding cultural differences that can impact police interactions. Alex Vitale, author of the insightful book, The End of Policing, has this to say about more training for cops: 

“Many advocates also call for cultural sensitivity trainings designed to reduce racial and ethnic bias. A lot of this training is based on the idea that most people have at least some unexamined stereotypes and biases that they are not consciously aware of but that influence their behavior. Controlled experiments consistently show that people are quicker and more likely to shoot at a black target than a white one in simulations. Trainings such as “Fair and Impartial Policing” use roleplaying and simulations to help officers see and consciously adjust for these biases. Diversity and multicultural training is not a new idea, nor is it terribly effective. Most officers have already been through some form of diversity training and tend to describe it as politically motived, feel-good programming divorced from the realities of street policing. Researchers have found no impact on problems like racial disparities in traffic stops or marijuana arrests; both implicit and explicit bias remain, even after targeted and intensive training. This is not necessarily because officers remain committed to their racial biases, though this can be true, but because institutional pressures remain intact.”

Point #9 – Increase efficiency and processes to optimize neighborhood policing strategies and provide cost-effective service delivery. Kristian Williams, in his book, Life During Wartime: Resisting Counterinsurgency, examines the history of community policing and the disastrous impact it has had on communities of color and poor communities.

In Williams’ book, he looks at the research done by the RAND Corporation, which studied community policing. The Rand Corporation says this about community policing as its paradigm for counterinsurgency:

Pacification is best thought of as a massively enhanced version of the ‘community policing’ technique that emerged in the 1970s. Community policing centered on a broad concept of problem solving by law enforcement officers working in an area that is well-defined and limited in scale, with sensitivity to geographic, ethnic, and other boundaries. Patrol officers form a bond of trust with local residents, who get to know them as more than a uniform. The police work with local groups, businesses, churches, and the like to address the concerns and problems of the neighborhood. Pacification is simply the expansion of this concept to include greater development and security assistance. 

More to the point of what community policing really is, Williams states:

Community policing, meanwhile, helps to legitimize police efforts by presenting cops as problem-solvers. It forms police-driven partnerships that put additional resources at their disposal and win the cooperation of community leaders. And, by increasing daily, friendly contacts with people in the neighborhood, community policing provides a direct supply of low-level information (Rosenau 2007). These are not incidental features of community policing; these aspects speak to the real purpose. 

If we had a real oppositional form of journalism in Grand Rapids, this is the kind of critique they would provide of the GRPD’s 2023 Strategic Plan. Instead, they simply act as stenographers for the GRPD, without questioning the real function of policing in Grand Rapids.

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