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UPDATE: City of Grand Rapids approves proposed surveillance changes

Grand Rapids looks to make "needed" change to city's surveillance policy
Posted at 10:13 PM, Dec 14, 2021

Update from Monday, January 3: A spokesperson for the City of Grand Rapids confirmed to Fox 17 that the proposed surveillance changes for the city were approved by City Manager Mark Washington.

We'll continue to keep you udpated on this story as we work to learn more.

Tuesday, December, 14: Grand Rapids leaders and NAACP officials described a proposed overhaul of the city’s surveillance technology policy as an essential next step.

“Technology has changed quite a bit,” said Mayor Rosalynn Bliss. “Revisions to this policy were absolutely needed as we looked to the future.”

Bliss and others discussed the possible changes at a press conference on Tuesday after the city’s Office of Oversight and Public Accountability presented the revisions to the city commission’s Public Safety Committee.

Under the current policy, which was approved in 2015 and has had no significant issues, city departments must seek approval from the city commission before they can purchase surveillance technology, like body cameras worn by police officers and drones used by the fire department.

First responders say the tools are critical in emergency situations, and while officials agreed, they said the policy does little to take into account a private citizen’s personal liberties.

“It’s hard to have a conversation around any city service without the use of technology,” said City Manager Mark Washington. “Citizens should be assured that when we buy technology, it won’t be overly invasive and infringe upon their human and civil rights.”

Last fall, neighbors voiced concerns and prompted the shift in policy when Grand Rapids police announced a plan to possibly buy ShotSpotter, a gunfire detection system, to curb crime.

Some people felt that it would lead to over-policing in Black and Brown and poorer communities.

A Chicago Inspector General’s report released earlier this year found that ShotSpotter produced questionable accuracy and increased police presence in neighborhoods where it was located.

“People want to have their privacy protected, but there’s also the concern about making sure that the community can be safe,” said Washington.

Washington is expected to approve the changes in early January, and they would take place immediately.

The city says the proposed new policy ensures all concerns through its 11 revisions.

For example, when a department wants to purchase surveillance technology, under the new guidelines, they would be required to hold a public hearing before city commissioners vote to approve the funds.

The revisions also outline prohibited use of the surveillance technology, sets up a system for residents to file complaints about misuse or overuse, and establishes an annual report that summarizes surveillance.

“Essentially [it’s] just bolstering the quality control mechanisms that are already in place and then creating other ones to make it even stronger,” said Carlton T. Mayers II, NAACP special adviser.

“It is critically important that we be preventative rather than reactionary,” said NAACP Grand Rapids President Cle Jackson. “I think that’s what this policy does by allowing that community voice to be at the front and at the center and to hold folks accountable quite honestly.”

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