GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Business and city leaders are seeing progress following months of a community discussion around safety in downtown. The Grand Rapids Public Safety Committee has voted on ordinances to refer to the City Commission, which voted this week on a budget that includes items focused on safety.

In December of 2022, several business and community leaders joined the Chamber of Commerce in calling for ordinances addressing begging and loitering in downtown.

“There was a conversation at the City Commission about, does the city need some additional ordinances to address concerns that were being raised to us … particularly by downtown businesses and employers,” Deputy City Manager Kate Berens said.

She said the public health issues included defecation in public spaces like parking ramps, cumulation of property in spaces like parks and alleys, and aggressive behavior.

The proposed ordinances included prohibiting sitting down in specific public spaces and regulating when someone can ask for money.

The Grand Rapids City Commission rejected the recommendations but said the city would start enforcing ordinances already on the books. It sent the matter to the Public Safety Committee.

That committee voted this week to said ordinances to the commission.

“Just earlier this week, we came back with a specific conversation around, are there additional ordinances that the Public Safety Committee thought should be referred to the City Commission for further discussion,” Berens said. “So that … group did vote to recommend to the city commission that they consider a few additional ordinances for further conversation.”

She said the ordinances include limiting the accumulation of private property in public rights of way in in public parks, so that everyone can enjoy those spaces. They also include other rules and regulations about conduct in city parks.

“Also, the committee recommended that the commission think about an additional ordinance around conduct, particularly in aggressive or intimating conduct around financial transactions,” she said.

The full Grand Rapids City Commission is expected to discuss those recommendations in June.


The Grand Rapids City Commission voted Thursday to approve the city’s budget for the 2024 fiscal year. The budget continues several initiatives that address public safety, such as Cure Violence — which is expanding into the 2nd Ward — the Homeless Outreach Program and the city’s partnership with Network 180.

It also focuses on filling vacancies at the Grand Rapids Police Department by using a recruitment service and putting recruitments through the Grand Valley State University Police Academy. Berens said the department typically has around 20 to 30 vacancies.

“I appreciate what the city commission invested in, in terms of mental health and public safety,” Joshua Lunger, the vice president of government affairs for the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, said.

He said he’s optimistic GRPD will become fully staffed in 2024.

The budget also includes the Clean Community Initiative. The city will be adding crew and equipment for daily cleaning in downtown and other areas.

“…This particular budget includes what we’re calling our Clean Community Initiative, which will address some public health issues that we’ve been hearing about in our downtown and some of our business corridors, so it allows us to add some capacity to be cleaning in those areas proactively and more frequently,” Berens said.


The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce is optimistic about the progress the city has made.

“There’s been forward progress even this week on discussions there,” Lunger said. “I know it’s a joint priority for both our business leaders and our community leaders. We’re optimistic that we’re heading towards addressing that.”

Lunger said part of those safety issues stem from a less-busy downtown coming out of the pandemic, when many employees switched to working remotely. He explained that having less people around can make an area feel less safe.

“Safety is a component — it’s one component of a messier puzzle to some degree,” Lunger explained. “The nature of work is changing. I think when you look at the daytime employee count it’s still much lower than pre-pandemic, and that’s because people are much more likely work remotely. That makes it harder for restaurants to be open during the day, which further reduces … people (who) want to come.”

Lunger said there are many components, such as housing, events and employment, that can produce a busy and “vibrant” city.

“A vibrant city is a safe city,” he said.

Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. is working to continue to activate spaces and bring different program and events to the area, such as its Relax at Rosa series, to create a vibrant space.

“We believe that if we draw more people downtown … whether that’s people living here, working here, visiting, the more people you draw downtown the better. I think that the density and the vibrancy that comes with that translates into positive outcomes,” Bill Kirk, the communications director for DGRI, said.

DGRI is pleased with how downtown is doing.

“For us, we’ve been really pleased with some of the resiliency and sort of the bounce back that we’ve seen from the pandemic,” Kirk said. “We tend to focus a lot more on the public realm, activating public spaces. … We think downtown is doing really well and we try to just keep doing our part to continue that momentum.”

“We do understand that these are some significant concerns for certain downtown stakeholders, and we just remain a committed partner,” he added later. “We want to always be there to listen and try to come up with solutions together.”