City leaders weigh in on $400K shift in GRPD funds

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — There was heated debate about slashing funds to the Grand Rapids Police Department at Tuesday night’s city commission meeting — which ultimately went nowhere as the city attorney shut the suggestion down.

On Tuesday morning, 2nd Ward Commissioner Milinda Ysasi announced plans to make a motion to cut GRPD’s budget by about $9 million. When the commission reconvened in the evening, the city attorney said commissioners did not have the power to make that kind of change to an existing budget without concurrence from the city manager. Instead, commissioners approved a $400,000 cut to GRPD’s budget. The money will be used to create three positions that will help facilitate communication and police-community relations. 

“To have a position tied to communications on behalf of the police department baffled me. It again indicated that we’re not fully listening,” 3rd Ward Commissioner Senita Lenear said Wednesday.

Lenear and Ysasi that voted against the $400,000 cut, saying it was not in line with what community members asked for. 

“It doesn’t make sense to me to start filling these ‘onesie’, ‘twosie’ positions without having a clear picture we’re trying to accomplish because we could go down this path and start repositioning and hiring people and even spend $9 million and not get it right,” Lenear said.

Lenear said there were more than 4,000 emails sent to city leaders with more than 25 suggestions of ways to shift police funding. She said shutting down the motion was a missed opportunity for a fruitful discussion.

Mayor Rosalynn Bliss voted in favor of the $400,000 cut. 

“I believe they’re a step on the right direction and they are in line with what we’ve been working on so far,” Bliss said.

The mayor said that while she agrees there’s a lot of work to be done, she wanted to be sure the police reform work and programs that have already been put in place won’t be negatively impacted by such a large cut. 

“The conversations are happening and as we move forward and create a stronger sense of safety where people feel like they’re being treated equitably, we have to be very deliberate and thoughtful about those transitions and changes and what those look like,” Bliss said.

Something both leaders agree on is that they will keep community members’ opinions at the forefront of this discussion. 

“My message to anyone that feels as though they were not heard is: I hear you. I see you. I’ve heard you. I understand what it is that you’re trying to accomplish. You are not alone in your efforts and don’t give up,” Lenear said.

The city plans to continue discussing the budget at upcoming meetings.