Grand Rapids police unions respond to City Commission calling for another study of department

Posted at 11:27 AM, Jul 27, 2017

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Grand Rapids Police unions are expressing their displeasure that the Grand Rapids City Commission has called for another review just after a consultant issued a report in April about racial bias in the department.

Commissioners voted this week to spend $181,000 for a review by 21st Century Policing Solutions, LLC.  This is on the heels of a review by Lambeth Consulting in April that showed officers stopped more black motorists at traffic stops than white motorists.

The Grand Rapids Police Officers Association and the Grand Rapids Police Command Officers Association say that they have felt blindsided by decisions by the Commission or City Manager to “hire consultants, conduct another study or make disparaging remarks toward police.”

“The steady stream of studies, criticism and direct policy and procedure investigations has had a deleterious affect on police officers and command staff.  The morale in the police department is extremely low and compounded by the fact that the department is operating with 100 fewer officers than should be on the job,” according to a statement from the unions.

Union representatives say that the “City Commission is fixated on the issues of racism and seems to have placed police at the top of their agenda as a way to combat and reverse the negative effects of racism.”  They say they agree with the goals of reversing the effects of racism, but do not agree with the “narrow and redundant nature of how the Commission and the manager’s office are handling the process.”

The entire  statement from the unions to the City Commission is below:

We are asking the City Commission and the City Manager to reflect on the process they are using to build a better, more effective police department and operations. Communication is a key factor. In every case of the Commission or Manager making a sweeping decision to hire consultants, conduct another study or make disparaging remarks toward police, the police have been blindsided. We don’t feel that a pattern like this can be in any way constructive to our relationships or our work. The redundancy of these studies and the money the Commission is spending seems at odds with what the best methods of collaborative management should look like. They are hiring consultants to give them information that they should already know. Our chief has created the most transparent operation any of us can remember. He has also set out a process for our department to be measured by proven national standards as part of a high level accreditation application. We have accepted all of the recommendations from the Commission and the Manager. We ask that those practices be allowed to mature and take full effect before adding another measurement element to our work that may be a simple reflection of what already exists or puts in place a process that could be counter productive. The moral disenfranchisement by this Commission and administration toward its human capital is alarming. Every city employee is affected by the amount of time and money this commission spends investigating us or chasing another study about a popular trend. All city employees are dedicated to our city, the taxpayers and the work we do. We’d just like to see a little appreciation for that once in a while.

We ask that the Commission and the Administration accept these thoughts.

If your goal is to build a better department take the time to discover what your police actually do on a day-to-day basis. Each division within our department is interrelated to the other inside an intricate web of communications and cooperation. This is the proven method that solves crimes and saves lives. It seems to us that it could work well in building the model department and city the Commission speaks of.

If your goal is to build a police department more reflective of the population we serve  please stop vilifying us. If news reports and social media are filled with your efforts to study, measure and take corrective steps it doesn’t enhance the attractiveness of being a police officer or working for the City of Grand Rapids. Building a more cooperative and cohesive effort will go a long way to building the department to more acceptable staffing levels.

We accept the call for behavioral modification. We think that is something that needs to be done on an ongoing basis. We would ask the behavioral modification be something the Commission could promote to the entire community. When police are involved in a confrontation with a suspect it only makes matters worse when crowds of people form to taunt us and take videos that will eventually end up on social media. We believe that many of these bystanders are jeering us to shake us up and cause an emotional response. Our professionalism dictates our actions, but you can imagine how difficult it can be for anyone to endure. If we could work together to ask the public to think these situations through and to measure the outcomes of this kind of behavior it would go a long way toward building mutual respect.

Without building our communications and cooperation the morale issues will only deepen in GRPD. Our department is facing a crisis point in staffing. We are presently over 100 police officers short of what we were at just ten years ago. Both of our Associations, as well as every union in the City, made considerable concessions after the crash of 2008. Not one bargaining unit has seen a return to those levels of staffing or benefits even though our local economy is booming and the City controls a huge fund balance. At the present rate of attrition, plus the number of officers considering early retirements or resignations to work at other departments or the private sector for more compensation and less stress, our numbers are dwindling to unsafe levels. As it stands now there are times of the day the outer areas of the city have no police presence at all. Our call load is more than we can handle so unless it is a major incident people will be lucky to see an officer in as timely a way as they would like and expect. Our detectives are over worked so they are prioritizing cases leaving retail crimes and minor offenses left for later review.

These are the hard facts. We need to work as a team, dedicated to the same outcomes, and not be placed in a combative or adversarial situation. We hope the City Commission and administration will take these comments to heart.