In an effort for community engagement and city transparancy, Defund the GRPD is hosting an online panel on Thursday, February 25. The virtual event, which starts at 7pm, will be streamed on the organization's Facebook page. It will run around 90 minutes long and will include discussions around community accountability with activists and area leaders.
In a press conference on Monday, volunteers with Defund the GRPD said the goal was to bring community to the forefront and allow people to bring their experiences and insights to the table.
"We want to allow people to tell their stories about what the GRPD has done because our communities have been affected in large and small ways," volunteer organizer Nikita said.
Representatives of Defund the GRPD only disclosed their first names for safety purposes. The groups said individuals have received threats and harrassment.
The upcoming panel comes on the heels of the organization's 'Worst of Grand Rapids' awards. Defund the GRPD said the awards were created to amplify voices of communities "marginalized, abused and underserved by buseinesses, elected officials and organizations in our community."
Defund the GRPD has been posting summaries of city commission meetings to help community members stay updated on local changes. They have also provided magnets that show alternative resources the community can use in specific situations, rather than call the police. Aid listed includes homelessness services, mental health crisis, human trafficking, domestic violence and sexual assault, among others.
When asked about the group's plans to defund the Grand Rapid's Police Department, representatives said strategies are still being discussed, noting that the path of action would likely come from a ballot initiative to tackle the Grand Rapids City Charter, which requires police to aquire at least 32% of the city's general funds. However they said defunding and reallocating police dollars would be a long road and that change needs to start with uplifting community members and organizations.
"That is something we've had conversations about, but I think the focus of Defund the GRPD has been deeper. There's been a conversation that needs to happen before we're ready for a ballot intiative. There needs to be a way to engage community in conversation so that marginalized folks are really feeling heard and feeling like their a part of the conversation, and that really hasn't been happening in Grand Rapids at all," volunteer organizer Amy C. said.
Fellow volunteer organizers agreed, adding that transparancy within the city is also key.
"Before we can even do anything like that, we have to see where that money is going. We know as of right now they're (GRPD) getting more than 32%, and there were initiatives asking for an itemized listing of where that money was going from the police budget. That information wasn't readily available, and when they did provide it they gave us one page which was was not an itemized listing of where every dollar was spent," a Defund the GRPD representative said.
In a statement to WGVU, the Grand Rapids Police Department said:
"Chief Payne’s record since he took office shows that he’s willing to sit down and talk to any person or group that demonstrates a desire to discuss, and offer ideas for, police operations when it comes to community. In fact, tomorrow the Chief and his team will be providing updates to the City regarding our strategic plan. A plan that was designed around key principles, that include lifting up community voices and engaging with stakeholders to increase partnership when it comes to policing in Grand Rapids. Also, the plan was designed based in no small part on the feedback from community and studies that the city had been conducting. Community members most assuredly had a hand in the plan’s development and we worked very hard to make sure all voices were heard. We encourage anyone who is passionate about this topic to tune in tomorrow at the City Commission meeting to receive the latest information."