Grand Rapids announces changes to policing

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From left, Oversight and Public Accountability Director Brandon Davis, Police Chief Eric Payne and City Manager Mark Washington announced a series of operational changes to improve policing in Grand Rapids. Courtesy city of Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids city officials announced a series of operational changes to improve policing in Grand Rapids.

City Manager Mark Washington, Police Chief Eric Payne and Oversight and Public Accountability Director Brandon Davis recently announced the changes as part of ongoing policy improvements made by the city following conversations with community members, as well as nationwide and local calls for police reform.

“We know we have a lot of work to do to undo racism and inequalities across the country, and we know that a lot of that work has been done here in this community,” Washington said. “While we have been working with our partners in the community to improve policing, we know we have a lot more to accomplish.”

The following changes are expected to take place within the next 60 days:

  • Improve the use of force policy by explicitly banning chokeholds
  • Improve GRPD policy requiring officers to de-escalate situations, where possible, by communicating with subjects, maintaining distance and otherwise eliminating the need to use force
  • Require officers to give a verbal warning in all situations whenever possible before using deadly force
  • Require officers to exhaust all other reasonable alternatives, including nonforce and less-lethal force options, before resorting to deadly force
  • Improve GRPD policy by requiring officers to intervene and stop excessive force use by other officers and report these incidents immediately to a supervisor
  • Update the policy on banning officers from shooting at moving vehicles — GRPD previously banned this practice
  • Make sure all uniformed officers have names on all uniforms while in public, including events involving civil unrest
  • Ensure OPA reviews and releases a comprehensive report regarding the status of all prior community-police relations studies, recommendations and commitments. This report will be released within the next 30 days
  • Continue to make structural changes to GRPD to address recommendations made in the deployment study, 2017 traffic stop study and 21st Century Policing report
  • Place more civilian employees in public information and senior administrative roles
  • Identify funding to expand OPA
  • Establish a community police advisory council to provide ongoing support and advice to the police chief on plans, strategies and policies
  • Increase and enhance training offered by the Office of Equity and Engagement and OPA related to equity, justice, implicit bias and other related topics for all city staff, including police
  • Work with the Grand Rapids Economic Development Department, Our Community’s Children, OEE and OPA to work with the business community to increase summer job opportunities for youth
  • Collaborate with the community to support programming that provides information, awareness and resources to be an ally to address systemic and institutional racism
  • Improve resident engagement by creating more opportunities to represent groups to promote safety and accountability and prevent crime
  • OEE will host an event in partnership with OPA led by subject matter experts regarding processing and healing from trauma and vicarious trauma related to racism and use of force
  • Create pathways for ongoing input and support from the community for the plan, strategies and tactics of GRPD
  • Continue to complete the OPA’s strategic plan and implement additional strategies to increase restorative justice programming, elevating community voice and public safety engagement
  • Ensure the GRPD works with OPA, the city’s Human Resources Department, Grand Rapids Public Schools, colleges, community organizations and labor groups to increase efforts in recruiting more diverse candidates

Payne said he was committed to accomplishing much of these objectives in the next 60 days and expressed the need to look beyond the 60 days and continue to work on longer-term solutions.

“We must be diligent and continue to listen to the community and adopt best practices on a continuous basis,” Payne said. “It is my duty and obligation to make sure our department is doing these things. We will do our due diligence in working with the Office of Oversight and Public Accountability and the community to make sure we have the best policies, practices and training in our police department.”

Washington also outlined suggestions from community members he said require additional time and consideration. They are:

  • Open public meetings for labor negotiations: The city and all of its labor unions are required to meet on mandatory subjects on bargaining and have done so outside of public meetings. Having open meetings cannot be done without the consent of both parties. Contracts are in place until June 30, 2022. The idea of open meetings for negotiations will be discussed with the labor groups in future labor conversations. This is not a decision that can be made unilaterally by management or the elected body.
  • Expanded power for the Civilian Appeal Board: Washington requested a legal opinion from the city’s law department on this matter.
  • Settlement with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights on its ongoing investigation into the patterns and practices of GRPD: The city attorney continues to review this and will provide an update to the city commission at a future date.
  • Redirect funding from police toward economic development, housing and other community programs: By City Charter, 32% of general funding must be allocated to GRPD. The city commission recently adopted the fiscal year 2021 budget, and more discussions are needed on the implications of any budget reallocations. However, some adjustments can be made to allocate additional funding to OPA.

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