Grand Rapids city commission considers police cuts

**Both sessions of the commission meetings can be found on the city’s Youtube and Facebook page.**

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A plan to in part defund police has supporters in the community and now on the Grand Rapids City Commission.

A commissioner announced on Tuesday that she will be putting forth a proposal to cut the police budget to the lowest level allowed by city charter.

Commissioners at Tuesday morning’s Committee of the Whole meeting heard from the police chief and the city manager about a plan that would transfer $400,000 from the police department’s $55 million budget to the office of accountability.

But that $400,000 shift did not have blunt calls for a major change in how police do business, starting with their funding.

“I have in my office from 2015, safe recommendations,” said Milinda Ysasi who represents the 2nd Ward. “We have not lived up to some of these reforms that we have put forth that we have spent time and energy on.”

Ysasi said it’s time for a significant change.

“For me, I feel it is necessary to put a motion on the floor to move to 32%, to move to that minimum requirement in the charter,” Ysasi said.

That’s about $9 million, and police leadership is not happy about it.

“The reality of $9 million reduction would result in layoffs in this department and that would be a radical change on how we deliver services going to the safety of the community,” Police Chief Eric Payne told the commission.

It’s an idea previously supported by 1st Ward Commissioner Kurt Reppart.

“I’m in favor of reform, I am not in favor of defunding,” said 3rd Ward Commissioner Nathaniel Moody.

But how this scope of reduction would happen is another topic.

“I want to figure out how we have a vision to get to good outcomes before we just make an arbitrary budget decision,” said Jon O’Connor, representing the 1st Ward.

But 2nd Ward Commissioner Joe Jones said something has to happen.

“We need to commit to stop doing the same, old same,old and expecting something different,” Jones said.

In addition to the chief, unions for police have also come out strongly against the changes.

“They are looking at potentially losing their jobs for doing their jobs and doing them very well in the city of Grand Rapids,” said Capt. Geoff Collard, president of the Command Officers Union last month.

But for Jones, the unions are part of the problem.

“It’s union leadership that sets the tone and fosters a culture of the department,” Jones said, adding that the unions nationally have protected officers that have been shown to have violated the rights of members of the community, especially people of color.

“What do you call it when you pull a gun on a young innocent black body who are unfortunately perceived as threatening but refuse to apologize to said victims, refuse to see them as human and having value? I tell you what you call it, you call it arrogance,” Jones said.

Jones said he is not looking to throw the department under the bus, but the dialogue needs to change.

“I’m tired of talking about removing bad apples because I have no idea who the good apples are and who the bad apples are; no one in the public does,” Jones said. “The chief probably knows and I’m most certain union leadership knows. Again, I think there’s something terribly wrong with that scenario.”

He said when officers are criticizing the chief for kneeling with demonstrators, they are chiding him for empathy.

“The chief is held accountable, we as elected officials are held accountable, all the appointed city officials are held accountable, but what about the union — why aren’t they held accountable?,” he said.

Jones said that the focus has been adding more police to troubled neighborhoods, rather than looking at the core issues that cause community violence.

“There’s greater hope, there’s less crime,” he said.

The evening meeting started around 7 p.m. and was still happening after 11:45 p.m. Many called in for public comment.

“We’re afraid. People who have families and businesses, if there are less police officers to protect us, we don’t want to have our businesses here. We don’t want to raise our families — we have to think about those people who are going to be in risk,” Christina a Grand Rapids resident said.

Other Grand Rapids residents were in support of defunding the police and called on change from commissioners.

“I’m horrified at how much of my city tax dollars goes to a system designed to police and oppress minority communities in a city that’s consistently recognized as being disproportionately hostile to Black citizens. If this city was genuinely committed to equity and opportunity for all citizens, we would consider a greater reduction,” one caller of Grand Rapids said.