GRAND RAPIDS — As part of an ongoing investigation into dozens of discrimination complaints against the Grand Rapids Police Department, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and the city are in discussions over a “global resolution” involving systemic bias at the GRPD.
The state launched an investigation in May 2019 into 23 complaints of discrimination against the GRPD. The number of complaints has grown to 35 as part of a “broader investigation into systemic bias in the policies and procedures of the GRPD,” said MDCR spokesperson Vicki Levengood. All individual complaints remain under investigation, while other complaints against GRPD have been settled, the state has said.
“The (MDCR) is currently in discussion with the city on a global resolution that addresses systemic bias in the policies and procedures of the GRPD,” Levengood told MiBiz this week.
The city of Grand Rapids issued a statement saying it’s cooperating with the investigation, which was launched after a March 2019 listening session in Grand Rapids. During the hours-long session, dozens of residents detailed their encounters with GRPD. The event was organized by the state after two Latino teenagers were detained at gunpoint and after an African American man was pepper sprayed and punched roughly 30 times.
“We have investigated every claim the Michigan Department of Civil Rights has brought forward since the conclusion of its listening sessions in March 2019,” the city said in a statement. “We have shared data and our conclusions and, where we found it appropriate, we resolved the matter.”
The discussions come amid public outcry across the country following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, who was killed after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Multiple protests have taken place in Grand Rapids over the past five days. Local protesters have also pointed to the May 20 arrest of 28-year-old Kavosaye Phillips, who was left with face injuries after his attorney alleged GRPD used excessive force. A GRPD investigation found excessive force was not used.
GRPD has opened another internal investigation after a video during May 30 protests downtown showed police maced a protester and fired a tear gas canister at close range. The incident has gone viral with more than 5.3 million views on Twitter.
City officials say work is ongoing to address the systemic issues of bias that have continued to strain police-community relations for decades. City Manager Mark Washington said this week a series of initiatives are underway through the Office of Equity and Engagement and the Office of Oversight and Public Accountability.
“Equity is embedded throughout our strategic plan and it guides our work,” the city added in its statement. “We are committed to leveraging our influence to intentionally remove and prevent barriers created by systemic and institutional injustice.
“We have completed studies to determine the scope of racial disparities in traffic stops and appointed a police policy and procedure committee that worked with national experts. We since have adopted several of the committee’s recommendations. We also have updated our youth interaction and use of force practices, implemented an historic human rights ordinance and created an Office of Oversight and Public Accountability. All of our police personnel receive regular implicit bias training.”
The state Senate unanimously passed a bill today requiring police training on implicit bias and de-escalation techniques.
Jamiel Robinson, CEO of Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses, said GRPD has “begrudgingly adopted and enacted” a 12-point plan of recommendations made in 2015, and it hasn’t adequately used $5 million in funding for community policing. Further, the recommendations didn’t include a 13th point, which would have created a civilian oversight board with subpoena power, he said.
“I know the police and police union have felt a lot of those recommendations weren’t warranted, but that’s the same way the public feels about how they over-police, especially African American communities,” Robinson said. “They’ve had all the tools in place, report after report, study after study. The data is in, but what are you going to do with that information?”