How do community members discuss big issues like policing?
Grand Rapids, MI is beginning a “police and community relations” program that will include a series of community listening sessions to increase engagement of all citizens in this issue. The community outreach plan includes listening sessions which will be used to decide how the city will utilize $1 million per year to enrich the relationship between community members and the police in Grand Rapids.
Described on the city’s website as an “ongoing, robust and authentic community outreach plan,” it will be led by a commission and will focus on recommendations made by the Safe Alliances for Everyone task force or SAFE (Carpenter, 2017, paragraph 1). These recommendations include a restorative justice focus, neighborhood youth programs, targeting initiators of gang-related violence, and greater support for parents.
According to Grand Rapids resident and author Amy Carpenter, the real problem underlying all others is the ongoing discrimination against non-whites, immigrants, the disabled, and members of the LGBTQ community. Discrimination often hides behind the face of “business concerns” through the oppressor’s contribution of money to support policies that marginalize minorities. SAFE hopes to bring attention to and address these issues at their meetings.
In order to confront these problems, SAFE intents to encourage civilians to get more involved in stopping unjust behavior in the community born out of prejudice and discrimination, through a specialized training center. “The Dispute Resolution Center… could help train the community in handling their own problems rather than calling in the law,” says Carpenter. In order for the center to be effective, those involved must be prepared for an on-call schedule that would allow them to arrive at the scene of a disputes at any time. They would also receive training in de-escalating dangerous situations so that they would be aware of the safe and effective steps to take once they arrived at the scene of a conflict (2017, paragraph 16). The hope is that civilian law enforcers will help mediate and solve problems before the police need to get involved. The absence of armed officers should ideally ease tension, thus allowing everyone to settle down before the situation worsens.
That doesn’t mean that the Grand Rapids’ officers are out of the job. Instead, as the civilians take on some of the responsibilities of the police force, the officers will be encouraged to embody civilian characteristics.”The police force could be restructured so that the same police who patrol a community get to know it outside of their patrol cars” (Carpenter, 2017, paragraphs 17 & 19), continues Carpenter. This includes participating in anti-racism training, opening the doors to a more diversified force, submitting to bias testing, and having a “real stake” in the community (Carpenter, 2017, paragraph 12).
Youth would also be actively engaged in the program and would be provided with new opportunities for enterprise. Positive social activities like support and funding for minority-owned businesses would expose the youth of Grand Rapids to a more positive, active role in their city.
The new community outreach program is a step in the right direction: creating more equitable outcomes in policing and justice. “It [will rebuild] trust in the community through transparency of information,” says Russell Olmstead, a member of the Community Police Relations Council (2017, paragraph 8). Holding leaders accountable for following through on meaningful solutions, positive changes and reduced harm to minorities within Grand Rapids is possible. Ongoing data and information will better inform long-term goals and plans for the city which has budgeted the outreach program for the past five years.
For more information on this topic, please read “Community listening sessions: What will you say about policing?”
Carpenter, A. (2017, June 9). Community listening sessions: What will you say about policing? The Rapidian. Retrieved from https://www.therapidian.org/community-listening-sessions-what-will-you-say-about-policing