New GR ordinance would penalize biased 911 calls

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A new and improved human rights ordinance is coming to Grand Rapids and the city is looking for your input.

The result of months of work with interested parties citywide, the proposed ordinance (PDF) would protect a growing number of people. It would also include penalties for rights violators, including those who dial 911 to try to use police to enforce their own bigotry.

“The city of Grand Rapids since 1953 has had an ordinance, our Community Relations Commission ordinance. We’re very proud to say that Grand Rapids had the first ordinance protecting human and civil rights in the state of Michigan,” Grand Rapids Diversity & Inclusion Manager Patti Caudill said.

But Jeremy DeRoo of LINC UP, an organization devoted to ending housing discrimination, says the old policies were scattered with vague definitions and weren’t enforceable at the local level. It was LINC UP that prompted the city to revamp its ordinance more than a year ago.

“What is in place now is really a document that has teeth behind it to ensure that rights will be protected and there will be consequences for violators and people that are discriminating against the residents of Grand Rapids,” DeRoo said. “Discrimination still happens in Grand Rapids and so we need to provide more venues for people who are experiencing these problems to have their voice heard.”

If an issue were to come up that the city couldn’t handle, citizens would be connected to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights or disability advocates.

While crafting the new ordinance, the city looked around the country for guidance from places like Madison, Wisconsin; East Lansing and Ann Arbor.

The protected categories would include age, ancestry, genotype, creed, conviction record, disability, color, gender identity and expression, among others.

“I think there are 40 definitions in that ordinance,” Caudill said. “Equal opportunity applies to everybody, so this ordinance applies to everybody.”

While the old ordinance was binary, the new one would recognize gender fluidity and LBGTQ definitions.

“I think what is proposed right now really does move Grand Rapids into a place where it can more authentically say that all people have the right to live and prosper in this community,” DeRoo said.

A unique aspect of the ordinance is labelled “Biased Crime Reporting.”

“That’s the ‘Permit Patty.’ … That’s the crying wolf when you see somebody who doesn’t look like you in your neighborhood and you immediately call the police,” Caudill explained.

“There’s been a number of instances over the last few years where the police have responded to issues based on essentially prejudiced phone calls,” DeRoo said. “They go out to respond to what appears to be an alarming call only to find out they’re disrupting a graduation party for a family that has done nothing wrong other than being a family of color in a public park.”

That provision may be the first of its kind in the state.

“I don’t believe that type of prohibition is anywhere in the state of Michigan that I am aware of,” Caudill said. “We’re going to be coming up with some additional steps and some training for the dispatchers and our city employees to kind of vet out whether bias is involved with calls.”

A violation would be punishable by up to a $500 fine.

“They did the absolute most they could with the legal rights they have as a city, but it is a daily fine so it can be quite significant if they don’t change,” DeRoo said.

The proposed ordinance still needs approval. It will be discussed at 3:30 p.m. Thursday at City Hall during the meeting of the Community Relations Commission, which would oversee the ordinance’s implementation. The ordinance also calls for that commission to be increased from nine members to 13.

The ordinance will also get a public hearing April 23 before the City Commission. People can also comment by emailing the Community Relations Commission at crc@grcity.us.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Know something newsworthy? Report It!

24 Hour News 8 Links