A full year after being formed to improve public safety in Grand Rapids, the city’s Office of Oversight and Public Accountability presented its draft strategic plan and independent comprehensive report on police studies and recommendations to the city commission in late August.
The draft plan provides a road map for the young branch of the city. The plan includes priorities that have specific objectives and measurable outcomes.
“While creating this plan, we focused on elevating resident voices, pursing equitable outcomes and reimagining policing in Grand Rapids,” Oversight and Public Accountability Director Brandon Davis said. “This plan is the product of the collective wisdom of community, city staff and the information contained in the city’s past studies and recommendations.”
The plan is aligned to the city’s strategic plan with a focus on public safety accountability that intentionally pursues justice.
The OPA’s vision is for Grand Rapids to be “nationally recognized as a place where there are just outcomes in its public safety departments and justice system and healed relationships between the community and public safety departments.”
Its mission is to help create and improve just outcomes and respectful relationships between public safety and the community through targeted change, accountability, restorative justice, empowerment and engagement.
“Our vision statement is intentionally aspirational and inspirational,” Davis said. “We recognize that the goal laid out in this statement is not an easy task or a simple fix. It is reflective of our values and exemplifies an ideal state of being.”
The OPA plan aims to help improve public safety policies and operations by:
- Disaggregating all public safety data, to the extent possible, by race ethnicity, gender identity and geography
- Evaluating the racial equity impacts of all public safety policies and initiatives
- Comparing the Grand Rapids Police and Fire departments’ policies, training and other systemic issues to the policies and training of other public safety departments and best practices in policing and reform
- Reviewing and reporting on all GRPD use of lethal force reports
- Working with GRPD to create, improve and strengthen policy to address the following: ban on chokeholds, requiring warning before using deadly force, ban on shooting at moving vehicles, creating a duty to intervene, ensuring names and badge numbers are on all uniforms, ban on no-knock warrants and other policy issues
The OPA will help improve individual, supervisory and organizational accountability for public safety activities through civilian oversight of all public safety operations. This will be done by:
- Evaluating crime-reduction strategies that detect and interrupt conflicts and change social norms
- Working with GRPD and GRFD to improve diversity in recruitment and retention of public safety staff
- Working with city departments to increase the amount of public safety data available to the public
- Serving as city liaison to the Civilian Appeal Board
OPA will help reduce barriers to trust that have been created by systemic inequities in the criminal justice system or that cause disparate outcomes.
- Partnering with the city attorney’s office to address historical systemic inequities and create alternatives that can be utilized in addition to traditional prosecution
- Evaluating and recommending the decriminalization of crimes or changes to policies, ordinances and laws that disparately impact communities of color
- Implementing programming that assists formerly incarcerated individuals with re-establishing themselves as productive members of society
- Implementing expungement programs and other strategies that increase the ability of community members to obtain employment and housing after obtaining a criminal conviction
Davis said the OPA now will work to finalize the strategic plan and create procedures to further strategic priorities and action steps. Internal and external education on OPA’s role and focus will begin in November. Community members still can provide feedback on OPA’s draft strategic plan at grandrapidsmi.gov.
Davis also outlined the OPA’s draft independent comprehensive status report on GRPD studies and recommendations, including the 12-point plan, traffic stop study, task force on police policies and procedures report, staffing and deployment study, and Safe Alliances for Everyone report.
“Transparency and accountability are important pillars in building trust,” Davis said. “This independent status report is an important step toward increasing accountability and transparency in our public safety operations.”
He said of the 106 total recommendations outlined in the studies and reports, 26% were completed, meaning the recommendations or similarly proposed actions were fully implemented in city and public safety operations.
Davis also said minimal progress was made on 29% of the recommendations, nominal or no progress was made on 20%, some progress on 16% and significant progress on 9%.
“I am supportive of Chief (Eric) Payne’s decision to cast his vision for our police department, and I am supportive of any changes that help increase accountability and transparency and help make Grand Rapids a place where all people feel safe and are safe at all times,” Davis said. “However, before moving forward, we must be accountable for the recommendations and commitments of the past. This comprehensive report is an important step in accomplishing that goal.”