Initiatives call for cuts, reform within GRPD

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As calls mount for national police reform, three initiatives in Grand Rapids take aim at the local police department and its funding.

Grand Rapids officials will hold another virtual town hall Wednesday in response to calls for change, talking about a number of suggestions brought up by residents last week.

Across the country protesters have called to defund the police. The statement has taken on several meanings, which are reflected in different petitions circulating in Grand Rapids.

Community organization Together We Are Safe: Bridging the Gap created a petition through The Action Network that had more than 600 responses as of 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. The petition “demand(s) that they defund the Grand Rapids Police Department” and calls on supporters to contact city officials.

“We’re just tired,” TWAS community advocate LaDonna Norman told News 8. “We’re tired of being harassed, intimidated, brutalized and despite all these efforts, the police have never really held accountability.”

Norman explained the group’s goal is to defund the department and reinvest in communities.

“I just think that we’re broken,” she said. “As a community we’re broken, but our community is repairable and I think with the proper support that we could police our own communities, that we can put that money elsewhere besides the Grand Rapids Police Department. I mean what are we paying for? … For us to be brutalized? For our sons and daughters to be harassed? For our children to get guns pulled on them? I mean, where’s the accountability at?”

The People’s Budget of Grand Rapids, which formed at the beginning of the month in response to protests across the country calling for police reform, is calling for a more moderate approach.

“The People’s Budget of Grand Rapids calls on the City Commission to publicly commit to reducing the Grand Rapids Police Department’s funding from 39% of the general fund to the Charter’s minimum allowance of 32% of the general fund and reallocate that funding into public services for communities of color before July 1st,” a statement (PDF) sent to News 8 reads in part.

Last month, the city commission approved a spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1 that includes a general fund of about $142.9 million. The city did not immediately release documents showing exactly how much of that would go to GRPD, but based on the figures included in the proposed budget and what ultimately passed, it should be between $55.1 million and $56.2 million — or between 38% and 39% of the general fund.

Previously, the department proposed more than $1 million in cuts to meet city requests, which included freezing civilian and intern positions and no longer paying for recruits to go to the academy. The moves are meant to help GRPD focus on diversifying its sworn officers and strengthening community relations.

The People’s Budget of Grand Rapids’ proposed reduction to 32% of the general fund would cut the 2021 GRPD spending to about $47.6 million — a decrease of about $8.6 million from 2020 funding.

The group created a Google document meant to provide a framework for people who want to contact elected officials about the matter. The page has more than 1,330 clicks since June 6, The People’s Budget of Grand Rapids Facilitator Rik E. Horoky told News 8.

The petition that has gained the most attention online was shared by community advocacy organization LINC UP, the Urban Core Collection and the NAACP of Greater Grand Rapids. It launched Friday and as of Tuesday morning had more than 2,500 signatures.

It asks GRPD, as well as the city, to formulate an accountability plan and lists five specific steps:

  1. Structural changes to the GRPD to address concerns raised in the Deployment Study and 21st Century Policing reports.
  2. A commitment to open public meetings for negotiations to change the existing or new collective bargaining agreements with The Police Union.
  3. Ongoing input and support from the community for the plan, strategies, and tactics of GRPD.
  4. Expanded funding for the Office of Accountability and Oversight to national standards of 3% of the police budget.
  5. Subpoena Power for the Civilian Appeals Board.

The expanded funding for oversight is the only specific mention of GRPD’s budget in the initiative.

News 8 contacted the city Tuesday for response to calls for cuts and additional reform. A spokesperson referred back to the planned items on the agenda for Wednesday’s forum and said “we are presently in listening mode.”

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