After hearing more than four hours worth of comments from the public and debating amongst themselves past midnight, Grand Rapids city commissioners did not make any dramatic changes to the police department budget.
Commissioners did vote on an amendment to the city’s budget which will result in a reduction of nearly $400,000 to the police department’s budget this year. Those changes will move the Oversight and Public Accountability Department out of the Grand Rapids Police Department, and increase its staffing. The amendment will also create a new civilian assistant director for the police department, a new communications manager and reduce costs by cutting overtime and supplies, among other changes.
Some commissioners had been hoping to make more dramatic cuts in the department. One commissioner, Milinda Ysasi, made a motion at a meeting earlier in the day that would have cut the police department’s budget by more than $9 million. The city attorney’s office advised her at the morning meeting that such a motion would not follow proper procedure, and could be overturned if it passed.
The possibility of deep cuts to the police department drove many people to flood the evening meeting with calls commenting on the budget. Many callers said they support deep cuts to the city’s police department. Others, some who said they do not live in Grand Rapids, said they want more funding for the department.
Following the marathon public comment session, the city attorney told commissioners a motion for deeper cuts still would not be allowed under city law.
“You can’t unilaterally do it,” said City Attorney Anita Hitchcock. “There’s an expectation that you’re going to work together with the city manager.”
Under the city’s form of government, the city manager is the chief administrator of the city, overseeing its departments and staff. The city manager is also responsible for drafting meeting agendas.
Ysasi and other commissioners said they were frustrated that the city manager and other staff weren’t more prepared to consider deeper cuts to the police department.
In recent weeks, commissioners have received thousands of emails and heard hundreds of public comments calling for cuts to the department.
“It sounds as though we’re not hearing what the community is saying,” said Commissioner Senita Lenear. “The community is fed up, they’re frustrated with how we are doing business in this massive structure that is called the city of Grand Rapids.”
Lenear noted that many people in the city have volunteered and attended meetings about police reform in the city over the past several years.
“We have several reports. We have a ton of recommendations,” Lenear said. “We have not implemented all of those recommendations, and we’re not even talking about all the recommendations that we have not implemented, and pretending like people aren’t going to remember that we didn’t implement them."
The city’s charter limits how much the police department’s budget can be cut. The charter requires at least 32% of the city’s general operating fund budget to go to the police department. For much of the past decade, the department has received more than 40% of the general operating fund budget. Cutting that down to 32% this fiscal year would amount to a cut of $9 million for the department.
Police officials warn that would result in dozens of officers being laid off, and reduced response to patrols throughout the city.
But at least three commissioners have signaled support for the cuts.