GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Greater Grand Rapids branch of the NAACP is demanding changes to the city’s policy regarding purchases of surveillance equipment for police.
At a Tuesday morning press conference, the NAACP said it has presented what it deems “major points” for immediate changes to Grand Rapids city officials. It called on the city to adopt the changes in the next 45 days.
Brandon Davis, the director of the city’s Office of Oversight and Public Accountability, says officials are taking into consideration the requests, which include the removal of exigent circumstances, or situations where evidence of a crime is in danger of being lost, from the policy.
“We agree with the NAACP in saying that exigent circumstances language should be changed,” Davis said.
The NAACP said it does not mean to cause any sort of dispute. Rather, it said, its sole goal is to protect the civil rights of all citizens.
“We are specific to working in community and specific to community voices, and we do want to have the relationships with our law enforcement,” Gayle Harvey, secretary of NAACP of Greater Grand Rapids, said at the press conference at the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation.
The civil rights organization also wants the city to allocate federal COVID-19 relief funds that can be used for public safety to more community-based resources.
“Our stance is we need you to allocate some of these funds for these programs that have a proven track record,” Harvey said.
Find a replay of the press conference below.
Carlton T. Mayers, II, esq., a public safety advisor for the Grand Rapids NAACP, said police helicopter patrols are excessively surveilling communities of color.
“That ultimately results in the exacerbation of overpolicing Black and brown communities, which ultimately results in unnecessary harms and deaths of Black and brown residents,” Mayers said.
The organization has also expressed concerns about gunshot detection systems like ShotSpotter.
GRPD declined a request for an on-camera interview Tuesday, but Chief Eric Payne told News 8’s Donovan Long last month that technology like drones is needed. Payne said drones can help shorten response times, allowing for better monitoring or crime scenes and search and rescue.
The NAACP says it’s not opposing the use of all new technology but wants transparency through a citizen’s advisory board that would sign off on a purchase and the creation of surveillance impact reports.
GRPD said it has not made any formal requests to purchase drone technology but plans to hold town hall meetings in the coming months.
The discussion continued during a virtual town hall meeting Tuesday night. Members from other NAACP chapters and the Grand Rapids Police Department took part in the meeting.
“The city of Grand Rapids has already seen the deployment of helicopters across the 3rd Ward for surveillance purpose,” Mayers said. “And the 3rd Ward is urban core of communities of color.”
While the department is planning to use drone technology, it wants the community to get a first-hand look at it.
“The drones, those conversations are going to go on in each ward,” Scott Rifenberg, GRPD’s deputy police chief, said. “Hoping to get the Kent County team or manufacturers out so people can experience the technology.”
One message remained clear during the evening session: Keeping the community informed on GRPD’s use of technology.
“Staying vigilant and being at table, even when not being invited and bringing your own chair,” Francine Maxwell, president of the San Diego NAACP chapter, said.