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NAACP making a push to change city’s surveillance technology policy

NAACP says current policy leads to racial profiling of Black and Brown communities
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Posted at 7:42 PM, Aug 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-18 00:43:32-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — In late April, GRPD dash camera video went viral after an officer repeatedly punched a Black man in the head as police were trying to apprehend him. Carlton Mayers III, Esq. mentioned it as one of the reasons the NAACP is making a push to change the city’s surveillance technology policy in order to prevent future incidents.

“We want to get ahead and be proactive instead of being reactive and make sure that we get these safeguards put in the policy now and not after a Black person or a Brown person has been killed or brutalized by another Grand Rapids police officer,” Mayers said.

Mayers spoke alongside others at a press conference at the NAACP office on Madison Avenue on Tuesday morning. He said this year GRPD has used helicopters to survey the 3rd Ward, which is predominantly Black and Brown.

He added that the current policy allows the city to purchase other controversial tools like the shotspotter and unmanned drones.

“The way that the policy stands now, it’s not sufficient enough to do two things: protect the civil rights of communities and also just in allowing community involvement in the process,” said Kareem Scales, administrator of operations with the NAACP. “We have three major amendments to the policy we want to propose with one being related to the definition of exigent circumstances.

The NAACP said the term exigent circumstances is not clearly defined, and they believe it could lead to further problems like violating people’s 4th Amendment rights.

Mayers said it also allows city entities to not have to adhere to the city's approval process that’s outlined in the policy.

“[The term] is problematic for two reasons: one is that there is no definition of it within the policy. So, that’s already an arbitrary clause that can be used for any purpose. That’s dangerous,” Mayers said. “Number two, exigent circumstances — under the law — only applies to use.”

He said it doesn’t apply to purchase. So, their second amendment is to have more community involvement, specifically a board to review technology before it’s purchased and then later assess its use to see if it should be continued to be used.

Lastly, they’d like the city to allocate federal funds to community programs, they said.

“Regarding the policy, regarding President [Joe] Biden opening up these funds to the city, they’re using these funds basically for technology, and our stance is we need you to allocate some of these funds for these programs that have a proven track record of helping the community itself,” said Gayle Harvey, secretary with the NAACP. “So, if that funding is available, filter it. The NAACP works with partners all over to create programs, and we have programs currently that we mentioned that can absolutely use those funds.”

Brandon Davis, director of the Oversight and Police Accountability team with the City of Grand Rapids, said they agree.

“The city is committed to community involvement in many processes. This is a great place for us to talk about involvement. We love to hear from other members of the community,” Davis said during a Zoom interview on Tuesday afternoon. “We’ve heard a great deal from the NAACP and I think it’s great input. It’s a great place for us to start. So, I appreciate their work. With the 2015 policy, the ACLU was involved in the creation of that, so we appreciate our community partners.”

One of the things they’re working on he said is reviewing the exigent circumstances language.

“I think the NAACP is correct in stating that the exigent circumstance language is just not the language to be used in the policy, and the reason it’s not the right language is because we have to have a conversation about it,” Davis said. “It doesn’t provide the clarity that is necessary for members of the community to know what’s actually being spoken of and also for city departments — the police department, the fire department or others who may be using this type of technology — to have clarity around what it means.”

The city attorney's office responded via text message that they have been meeting with the NAACP and the community about these and related concerns:

“We have been working wit the Office of Oversight and Accountability to assess our policy. We have met with NAACP representatives several times most recently Monday August 16. We are working with the NAACP and other community stakeholders to evaluate and address their concerns. The Department of Law is committed to assisting our client, the City of Grand Rapids, on all legal considerations related to the surveillance policy.

“We have traditionally engaged the community with our policy work including on the current surveillance policy that was adopted in 2015 and pre-approved by ACLU.”

“The legal considerations and guidance related to the American Rescue Plan funds is changing rapidly. We will continue to advise our client on permissible expenditures related to allocated American Rescue Plan funds. The Department of Law does not ordinarily weigh in on the priority of such expenditures that are deemed legally permissible.”

They also stated that they are not using ShotSpotter or drones at this time and that any technology they'd like to use must go through the surveillance policy through the commission.

The NAACP said they’ll continue to meet with the city. However, they hope that their amendments are implemented soon.

“We know that we’re going to have a new police chief some time next year,” Mayers said. “So, I think this is a very important moment for us to be involved, not only the NAACP but the whole community.”

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