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Does the Grand Rapids Police Officers Association contract promote police officer misconduct?

Let’s end this cycle of false concessions and make real changes that matter so that we may affirmatively further police/community relations in Grand Rapids.
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Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids /Steve Depolo

A citizen-based analysis of the current state of police-community relations in the City of Grand Rapids has revealed a consistent narrative: there is a clear resistance from the GRPD to accept accountability.  

The pattern in practice of GRPD officers handcuffing and drawing guns on innocent young black children, with no repercussion, has served as a consistent impediment to police/community reconciliation. I don’t think anyone in our great city would disagree that in order to move toward police/community reconciliation we must remove all contradictions in policy, culture and practices that promote mistrust and oppression. It is only by naming and telling the truth about these contradictions that will lead to real change and only then, will we begin the true process of healing.

After repeated contradictions in what GRPD claimed it wanted its relationship with community to be versus the real-lived experiences of those who were being harmed rather than helped, I began to research best practices in attempt to propose some potential resolutions for consideration to the City Commission. My research lead me to an organization called, “Campaign Zero” ( Campaign zero exists to improve police/community interactions and ensure accountability.  Their website has a robust menu of excellent potential policy solutions. One section, however; caught my eye. I honed in on the section titled, “Fair Police Union Contracts.” Of note, this section mentioned that municipalities should, “Keep officers’ disciplinary history accessible to police departments and the public.”  This immediately made me wonder, are some cities destroying records of past officer misconduct? Moreover, is this happening in Grand Rapids? Keep reading and decide for yourself.

The Current GRPOA Contract

The current contract between the City of Grand Rapids and the GRPOA (Officer & Sergeant unit: July 1, 2016 – June 30, 2019) contains some provisions that could reasonably be interpreted as language designed to promote (at worst) or condone (at best) police misconduct.  

On page 7, Article 10, “Discharge and Discipline,” Section 3 states:

“In imposing any discipline on a current charge, Management will neither take into account any prior infractions which occurred more than two (2) years previously nor impose discipline on an employee for falsification of his/her employment application after a period of two (2) years from his/her date of hire. In the event an employee completes two (2) years of service without a disciplinary action, letters of warning and/or suspension over two (2) years old shall be permanently removed from his/her personnel file upon request to the Director of Human Resources. Except to show notice or knowledge when such is in dispute, discipline which has been or could be removed from an employee’s personnel file shall not be introduced in an arbitration hearing”

Yes, you read it right! After 2 years it never happened! And how about that falsification of application piece… Try that at your next job and let me know how that works out for you. But that’s not all.

In the same Article 10, Section 9 (b) states:

If written counseling is issued to an employee, a copy will remain in that employee’s personnel file for a minimum of one (1) year from date of issuance. If during that one (1) year period there are no further behavior or performance issues addressed with that employee either through additional counseling or discipline, the employee may submit a request to the Director of Human resources to have the written counseling permanently removed from his/her personnel file.

Hmm…so based on this, the officers that pulled the guns on the black babies leaving the Kroc Center in 2017 can literally say it never happened. I don’t know about you, but it seems that the only employees of the city that are allowed to carry guns and point them at you should be held to a higher standard. At the height of these standards, there should be accountability.

This contract language is a textbook example of how NOT to keep officers records accessible. Furthermore, this inaccessibility neatly packaged in the contract language can be reasonably interpreted as the municipal approval of the integration of systemic oppression in the practices of the GRPD.

Revelation is Transportation

This past Sunday, as I attended Bedside Baptist (for those of you that don’t know, this is a colloquialism for skipping church and logging into the live stream from your bed – Shhh nobody tell Dr. Glenn) I was struck by a comment made by the guest preacher, Dr. Ricky Almond. Of the many golden nuggets he dropped in his sermon, one was the notion that Revelation is Transportation. In other words, once a thing has been revealed it should serve as the impetus for or transit to an ultimate paradigm shift. That revelation should move us to what’s good and proper, to the space we need to be. Or as the my ancestors used to say, ”When you know better you should do better.”

If the City of Grand Rapids has a true commitment to it’s people, and I believe they do, they must face the reality that this oppressive GRPOA contract language must be eliminated during this current negotiation period (happening now or soon). Let’s end this cycle of false concessions and make real changes that matter so that we may affirmatively further police/community relations in Grand Rapids. Please call or email the City Manager, your commissioners and the Mayor and urge them to adopt fair, common sense contract language in the GRPOA/ City of Grand Rapids Union Contract. If you would like to see a copy of the contract please email me at [email protected].


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