City commissioner calls for GRPD funding cut, response reform

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids city commissioners spent several hours Tuesday discussing police funding and reform.

Among the questions they considered is whether the tax dollars that support the Grand Rapids Police Department be better spent on social programs that could reduce crimes.

Some call it defunding, but 2nd Ward City Commissioner Joe Jones call it reimagining.

“It is needed for such a time as this,” Jones told his fellow commissioners during a virtual work session.

Part of the reimagining would reduce GRPD’s budget to 32% of the general fund. Under the budget set to go into effect July 1, the police department budget is $55.1 million, or 38.6% of the budget. Dropping it to 32% would equal in a $9.4 million reduction.

Commissioners would have to vote to make that happen.

There are already plans to spend more of the police budget on the new Office of Oversight and Public Accountability.

“I would like to see us get to a point where that particular department is anywhere from 2% to 3% of the police department budget,” Jones said.

He’s also pushing for an even bigger chunk of GRPD’s funding to go toward a wholesale switch of what police respond to. Under it, certain types of calls that might now send officers to a home would instead dispatch professionals from other disciplines.

“Some of those include ones that involve substance abuse, domestic abuse, mental health,” Jones listed.

Critics ask who would respond to crimes. Supporters theorize crime would be reduced by taking a more holistic approach.

Reducing the GRPD’s budget to 32% of the general fund may not be enough to satisfy some critics of the current system — but it’s not an arbitrary figure. In 1995, voters approved an amendment to the city charter that guarantees GRPD’s 32%. It would take yet another amendment vote by the people to do away with it.

City Manager Mark Washington told commissioners he’s focusing on more immediate solutions.

“What we’ve tried to focus on right now is what could we get done within the next 60 days to address some of those issues,” Washington said.

GRPD last week announced it is in the process of implementing several policy reforms, including explicitly banning chokeholds, instructing officers to deescalate tense situations and exhaust all other options before using deadly force, and requiring officers to intervene if they see a colleague using excessive force.

The public got a chance to weigh in on the debate over police funding during Tuesday night’s virtual City Commission meeting.

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