Coalition Aims to Divert Michigan City Police Funding to Social Programs | State
(The Center Square) — A coalition that includes the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP is circulating a ballot initiative to amend the Grand Rapids city charter to cut funding for the police.
The recently formed Community Owns Safety Coalition is made up of people who work for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, Urban Core Collective, NAACP of Greater Grand Rapids, The Urban League of West Michigan, and LINC UP.
If the COSC collects enough signatures to put the initiative on the November ballot, voters in Grand Rapids in November will decide whether or not to cut city budgets for police. The ballot initiative seeks to eliminate the current minimum of 32% in the city charter with a minimum of 9.8% going instead to specific programs.
Kareem Scales, operations administrator for NAACP Grand Rapids, said in an email to The Center Square that these programs include:
- Affordable housing.
- Mental and physical health.
- Environmental sustainability.
- Police responsibility.
- Economic growth of communities with disproportionately high gun violence, unemployment and child poverty.
Grand Rapids’ total revenue was $141.8 million in 2020, and public safety expenditures totaled $86 million, or about 61% of the city’s general fund. According to the city’s $723 million budget 2022actual city police spending this year will be $17.76 million, or 30.5 percent of the city’s amended budget.
“We have not done an analysis of this particular proposal, so it is difficult to say what impacts it might have, if any, and it would be premature for us to comment on any proposed changes to the charter,” Steven J Guitar, media relations director of the City of Grand Rapids Office of Communications, told The Center Square in response to an emailed query to the city’s police department.
A similar response was received from Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, a Democrat who told The Center Square, “I haven’t had a chance to do a full analysis of the proposal, so it’s difficult to comment on the potential impact it would have, in particular. on departments that are largely funded by the general operating fund.
City-Data.com reports that the Grand Rapids Police Department had 368 full-time employees in 2019. Of that number, 299 employees were police officers. In a city of 201,000, that equates to about 1.5 officers per 1,000 Grand Rapids residents, which by comparison is lower than the state average of 1.74 officers per 1,000 people.
City-Data.com also reports that violent crime in Grand Rapids was 54% higher than the national average in 2019, and property crime in the city was 8.2% lower than the national average in the same year. .
According to the scales:
- Oakland allocated the highest share of its general fund to police departments in 2017 at 41%, or $242.5 million.
- Chicago followed closely with 39.6%, or $1.46 billion.
- Minneapolis set aside 35.8%, or $163.2 billion.
- New York City had the highest police budget in fiscal year 2017 at $4.89 billion, though that’s only 8.2% of the city’s general fund.
- Per capita spending on police is $772 in Baltimore, $581 in New York, $537 in Chicago and $381 in Los Angeles.
“Our amendment will replace Section 68(f)(d) of the city charter, which currently reads in part: ‘Not less than 32% of the general operating fund shall be appropriated for police services,'” a said Scales. “It’s time we reimagined public safety and we are doing so by prioritizing the needs of the disenfranchised people who have been the most victimized by the lack of investment in cities’ most dangerous communities.”
Scales noted that the Greater Grand Rapids NAACP supports this initiative because it aligns with the organization’s current priorities, including:
- Economic sustainability.
- Public security.
- Criminal justice.
- Right to vote and political representation.
- Develop the commitment of young people and young adults.
He added that the city’s Third Ward is home to the highest concentration of black residents in Grand Rapids. This region, he said, “has suffered for decades from a lack of equal investment in economic development, housing, education and infrastructure, to name a few. It is a fact that crime in the United States is concentrated in poor urban areas. The data also shows that increased investment in policing does not translate to safer communities,” he said.
Citing research conducted by the Center for Popular Democracy, Law for Black Lives and the Black Youth Project 100, Scales argues that investing in mental health, housing, youth development and decent wages would stabilize communities and prove more effective than the police.
“If we improve the economy in the Third Ward, crime will go down,” he said. “This community has always been the least invested neighborhood in the city. The data shows that the city often spends more on infrastructure in the first and second wards than in the third ward. Of the $68.5 million in “location-specific” capital investments in the fiscal year 2020 budget, only about 12.6% went to the Third Ward. Appropriate investment in these areas will lead to a better quality of life for the residents of these communities, which in turn will lead to lower crime and safer communities.