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City of Grand Rapids survey on GRPD drone use is vague, misleading and seeks to counter organized effort to prevent the cops from purchasing drones

April 23, 2023

Grand Rapids City officials have sent out a survey on the issue of the GRPD wanting to purchase and use drones, or what they are calling Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (SUAS). 

In many ways this survey should be seen as a counter to the Action Alert sent out by Defund the GRPD and their coalition partners, an Action Alert that was demanding that Grand Rapids City officials deny funding for the GRPD to purchase drones.

The City’s survey on drones is framed in such a way as to limit what they want you to know and to present themselves as saying that the GRPD would never use drones to monitor the public. The failure of the City to be transparent and forthcoming about policing in this city has been a consistent pattern for several years, with an increase in their misinformation since the 2020 uprising and calls to defund the GRPD. 

Here is a link to the survey, and below we provide all of their questions, with our own commentary on what the questions are misleading.

Introductory narrative to the survey

The Grand Rapids Police Department is collecting community input on the potential use of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (SUAS). Sometimes referred to as “drones”, SUAS technology is already in use by many law enforcement agencies across the state to increase public safety.

Survey Question #1 

Which types of activities do you believe SUAS technology would benefit public safety in our community? (Check all that apply) 

The options listed are meant to convey the idea that the GRPD just does work that keeps people safe. The reality is that it doesn’t include options about civil unrest, un-permitted protests or what the City refers to as Extenuating Circumstances.

Survey Question #2

Do you know that the City of Grand Rapids already has a policy (15-03) in place that would govern SUAS use including reporting all deployments, making photos/video subject to records retention policies and available under FOIA records requests (similar to body worn cameras), and audited by the Office of Oversight and Public Accountability (OPA)?

What the survey doesn’t tell you about policy (15 – 03) is that because of Extenuating Circumstances, they can deploy the use of drones whenever they deem it necessary. For example, in a recent MLive article, City Manager Mark Washington added that drones could be used to monitor protests that aren’t permitted and are potentially interfering with roadways. In addition, even though people can submit a FOIA request for drone captured pictures or video, the GRPD can determine what pictures or footage they will release. See our 2020 post on FOIA documents on the 2019 May Day action by Movimiento Cosecha GR

Survey Question #3

Do you know that this policy prohibits the use of SUAS to “harass, intimidate, or discriminate against any individual or group”?

Once again, not if Extenuating Circumstances are applied. The April 11 MLive article cited earlier, also states: “The situations in which a drone might be used include dangerous and reckless driving, river drowning and rescue, apprehension of a fleeing felon, accident scene reconstruction, crime scene documentation, missing persons search, civil unrest and large gatherings “where an aerial view is necessary to ensure safety and minimize the number of officers involved on the street,” Winstrom wrote to commissioners in an April 11 memo.” 

Survey Question #4

Did you know that both Kent County Sheriff’s Office and the Michigan State Police have and use SUAS in and around the City of Grand Rapids, but the City’s policy does not apply to these entities? Use is governed by those agencies.

As you can see, the survey is not only brief, it purposefully leaves out information, necessary information that would not only promote transparency, but allow people to make a more informed decision. 

People can make their own choice about whether to participate in the survey or not, but if you oppose the GRPD from purchasing and using drones in Grand Rapids, then please join Defund the GRPD and their coalition partners in coming to the City Commission meeting tomorrow – April 25th, and speaking up during the public hearing on the GRPD’s request to purchase and use drones. Here is a link to the Facebook event inviting people to show up and say no to drones for the GRPD!

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