The proposal would also mandate training for police and dispatchers to control for bias.
The city commission met this week for the first public hearing on a human rights ordinance that address protected classes and discriminatory practices, including discriminatory housing practices and 911 calls on Black residents for racially profiling “people of color for participating in their lives.”
A third of the three-hour meeting heard the public’s concerns and support for the ordinance.
“If you’re in a park or see someone coming through the neighborhood who doesn’t look like you, check your bias before you call the police,” said Patricia Caudill, the city’s diversity and inclusion manager.
“Police were called on a graduation party in one of the parks and it was an African-American family,” said Caudill. “Police were called because it got, according to some folks, loud in a city park. Was that because of bias?
“I don’t know, but we want to make sure that people are allowed to live their lives.”
The section of the proposal on “biased crime reporting,” would make profiling a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $500 fine. It would also train police and dispatchers to ask questions about why a call is being made.
There are 110,000 911 calls a year in the city of 200,000 people.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2011, of the estimated 62.9 million U.S. residents who had one or more contacts with the police, 51 percent of those contacts were because a citizen requested police services.
Nowhere in minimum training standards for 911 dispatchers does it refer to cases like this.
“I am appalled that I live in a city that has to have an ordinance that tells people not to call the police on people because of the color of their skin,” West Side resident Lisa Wood said during the Tuesday meeting. “I have biracial grandchildren, and that’s why I had to be here tonight because I had to stand up. I refuse to let them grow up in that kind of world.”
“We in the community have had various conversations over the last few years about disparities that exist in Grand Rapids,” Jeremy DeRoo, executive director of advocacy group LINC Up, said.
The Grand Rapids ordinance is valuable because it addresses residents who use law enforcement as their “personal racism concierges,” said Phillip Atiba Goff, president of the Center for Policing Equity, a nonprofit group that promotes police transparency and accountability.
The City’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, City Attorney’s Office and Grand Rapids Community Relations Commission (CRC) was approached in June 2018 by staff from LINC Up – a local community development organization – with a request to revise the current ordinance.
An original ordinance created in 1950 was criticized for not having penalties for breaking the current rules. It was only updated in 2015 to incorporate for community members based on gender identity. The new ordinance would make it clear that any violation is a misdemeanor and they could be the first city in the state to pass this kind of protection for people of color. The city commission vote is scheduled to happen prior to May 14.
The multi-racial, multi-cultural, and multi-generational subcommittee researched similar ordinances in other cities across the state and in the Midwest.
Some opposition included referencing the “Ferguson Effect” claiming Black Lives Matter movements caused de-policing of American cities. Others were in favor of the concern about while Black moments but thought file police training should be improved and feared resentment between races if the ordinance passes.