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City, GRPD must seek independent investigations into police call recordings to rebuild public trust, transparency

The City and the Chief have known about these phone calls and their content for going on a year now. Yet they delayed in condemning the actions of the officers, repeatedly fought FOIA requests for the phone calls, and they didn't fire the involved officers.
Cheif Rahinsky discussing the Lamberth Consulting study at LINC UP.

Cheif Rahinsky discussing the Lamberth Consulting study at LINC UP. /PPWIII

Yesterday, after months of fighting in court, the City was forced to release 5 recorded phone conversations between Officer’s Adam Ickes, Thomas Warwick, and the now fired Lt. Michael Janiskee. These conversations were related to a November 19th 2016 accident involving the former assistant Kent County Prosecutor Josh Kuiper. At 12:30 a.m. on the 19th Mr. Kuiper drove the wrong way down a one-way street and crashed into a parked car throwing Daniel Empson, who was leaning into the car to retrieve a jacket, 60’ through the air fracturing his shoulder.  

Mr. Kuiper allegedly stopped at multiple bars after attending a party for outgoing Prosecutor William Forsyth and admitted to Officers Ickes and Warwick that he had been drinking. He was described as being “hammered” by Officer Ickes in a previously released phone call from that night. Multiple people at the retirement party are on record as saying they saw Mr. Kuiper there and that it appeared to them he had too much to drink. Others at the party, including William Forsyth, spoke to Mr. Kuiper directly telling him that he shouldn’t drive home. Records also show that in 2005 Mr. Kuiper was involved in another property damage accident and had a blood-alcohol level of 0.07. In that case charges were reduced by prosecutors and he plead guilty to failing to stop at a property damage accident.

But given all this information, the then Assistant Kent County Prosecutor Joshua Kuiper was never given a breathalyzer and only received a ticket for going the wrong way on a one-way street and hitting a parked vehicle. That’s a $170 fine by the way.  A $170 fine for a man who was making $94K a year. Plus benefits. Oh and he was even driven to a friend’s house by Officer Warwick. How nice.

Since I learned of this incident I’ve been both intrigued and enraged. Just sitting and stewing waiting to read or listen to the 5 recorded phone conversations. Hoping they would shed light onto why this man wasn’t prosecuted further. To finally be able to hear a response from the City and Chief who surely already knew what was said on those calls. Maybe it would help me understand why when five African American boys, aged 12 – 14, were wrongfully held at gun point by the police and ask for an apology they get none, but an apparent drunk driver who put people’s lives in danger gets a ride to a friend’s house. However, yesterday when what I was waiting for finally happened there was no sense of relief or understanding. Worse yet there wasn’t even a sense of surprise.

The transcripts and audio confirms what I, and many others, already suspected. The officers involved worked together to manipulate the situation to a desired outcome. This is the same action taken when people planting evidence. Both work to twist the justice system towards preconceived and desired outcomes.  And while this truth is horrible and undeniable, it’s also relatively small in comparison to the Pandora’s Box the recording of line 3407 opens up.

Since it’s reclassification in October of 2010, line 3407 has been labeled “un-recorded” and had been used in that capacity by the GRPD. However, we now know that line 3407 has recorded every phone call it was used for over the last 6-7 years. In an investigation done by Mlive looking at call log activity from random days on line 3407, they found that there were as many as 13 phone calls in a day using that line. This means at least hundreds, more likely thousands of calls have been made using 3407 since late 2010. Given this information it’s truly amazing and disheartening to contemplate the amount of tickets, arrests, and overall cases this may affect. Especially considering the manipulated outcome involving Mr. Kuiper’s incident needed just 5 calls.

I realize not every call involving line 3407 would have been used to subvert the system. That would be an irrational conclusion. However if you listen to the initial phone call between Officer Ickes and Lt. Janiskee it’s plain to see line 3407 and this type of subterfuge have been used before. Officer Ickes starts the conversation with “Hey, uh, anybody in the room that shouldn’t hear things?” Lt. Janiskee simply stops Officer Ickes from talking further and says the number “3407”. Officer Ickes knows exactly what he’s talking about, says “all right”, hangs up and calls 3407.

Here’s a link to the full audio and transcript excerpts from the 5 phone calls that followed.

In an interview with Mlive reacting to the release Chief Rahinsky’s states the “The whole incident is appalling. It undercuts our credibility in the community. It discredits what we’ve worked so hard to create, which is trust and transparency.”

He’s absolutely correct. And while I appreciate his candid response, I feel the Chief is missing the culpability both he and the City have in continuing to discredit that work of transparency and trust. The actions of the officers involved here are their own. And while they are definitely examples of improper oversight, corruption, and the systemic inequities in our City it’s the response after all of the facts were known that is worse.

The City and the Chief have known about these phone calls and their content for going on a year now. Yet they delayed in condemning the actions of the officers, the City repeatedly fought FOIA requests for the phone calls, there was no push for any sort of independent investigation of line 3407, there were repeated reminders from the City Manager that Commissioners not comment on the incident, and they decided not to fire Officers Ickes and Warwick and instead gave them paid suspensions (one being only 120 hours). These are not actions that generate trust from the community. They aren’t true to the concept of accountability. These are not actions rooted in the ideal of transparency but rather in the ideal of control. And to try and reason otherwise is disingenuous at best.

That’s what is so damn frustrating about this entire incident. After all that the city has gone through over the last couple years implementing the 12 point plan, the bias testing, the listening sessions, the new task force, equity training; none of it made a difference in changing the systemic response of control when faced with adversity. None of these new tactics or strategies are truly being implemented yet to bridge the gap of mistrust and cynicism in the community. And because of this I fear these actions will only work to reinforce the divide between the community, the police, and the government.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope that the Commissioners, the Mayor, and the Chief step up to this challenge and start facing it head on. And I hope we in the community raise our collective voice and demand such action. But time is running out and the political and social capital wasted here have been immense.

An independent investigation needs to happen regarding these recordings. We must know if there are any other correlations between the use of Line 3407 and the manipulations of cases, tickets, and arrests. We can’t wait for the next lawsuit and have a constant drip of new revelations coming from these recordings. That will only further erode public trust and constantly be ripping the scab off the same wound. Furthermore in the interest of the public trust and transparency that Chief Rahinsky has stated are not “just buzzwords”, the City and GRPD need to release all recordings publicly once the investigation is completed.

I know these are not easy choices for the City or the Chief. I know that the normalized response is to fight perceived allegations and defend the system. But doing so at this time will not serve the purpose or end goal they’ve all stated they have. Trust has been lost here. And the only way forward is to earn that trust back. That is not possible by waiting and reacting to the next investable crisis. It’s only possible through proactive leadership based in the same ideals of transparency and trust they claim to be fighting for. So while this is not the easy choice it is the right one. And quite frankly, I believe it’s the only one they’ve got.

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